How to Use Content Marketing to Support Your Sales Team

Improving your sales team’s effectiveness is an ongoing process. Content marketing can help. In fact, content is no longer a nice-to-have. For most marketers, it’s a must-have. Here’s why.

Improving your sales team’s effectiveness is an ongoing process. Content marketing can help. In fact, content is no longer a nice-to-have. For most marketers, it’s a must-have. Here’s why.

Content IS Your Sales Team

For starters, today’s buyers are typically far into their decision-making journey before they invite a salesperson into the conversation. So for the first three-quarters of that journey, your content marketing is a proxy for your sales team. If it’s not demonstrating your expertise and its applicability to the problem they’re trying to solve, you will never be in the running for serious consideration by your prospects.

Being in the running isn’t really our goal, though. We want to make the short list and, ultimately, win the business. For that, content can again ride to the rescue, setting the stage for the late-funnel work that your actual sales team will do.

The question is, what kind of content will do that? Content that is optimized to attract your audience, is structured to create a story that engages your audience, and which asks the questions that will move your audience toward a decision.

Optimizing Your Content Marketing

For your content marketing to work well, you have to know who will be reading it and what their objectives are. Your content has to address the challenges they are facing and understand what their status quo looks like.

That last bit is key because your competition is not just the other firms with whom you trade account wins and losses; it’s inertia. If you can’t create a case that points to real business improvements gained by changing what they’re doing now, you won’t lose the sale to your competitors. There simply won’t be a sale.

Story Follows Research

Once you’ve done the research that helps ensure you’re speaking the using the right language and addressing the right issues, you must get their attention and get them engaged. This is not a time for same-old, same-old. It’s time for constructing a narrative that brings your value proposition to life.

Data can support your story, but the human and emotional aspect is what resonates with even the most analytical audience. Make them feel the decision they’re about to make and let the data support that feeling.

Ask and Answer

Finally, it’s question time. You should be ready to ask questions that will move your prospect toward the next step on their buying journey. And you should be prepared to answer the questions that you know (from your research) are top of mind for prospects at each stage.

Whether your content answers those questions or your sales team does will depend on the questions and on the nature of the prospect and the sale. Either way, strong content is an important part of giving your sales team the best chance for making the most of the opportunities your marketing creates.

The Smart Way to SEO Success

Google’s algorithm updates may be incremental, but the effect on SEO over time has been anything but. And while the relentless pace of those updates may make SEO feel like a game of whack-a-mole, attention to the fundamentals can make all the difference to your SEO success.

Google’s algorithm updates may be incremental, but the effect on SEO over time has been anything but. And while the relentless pace of those updates — and the churn of the competitive landscape in your industry — may make SEO feel like a game of whack-a-mole, attention to the fundamentals can make all the difference to your SEO success.

Focus on SEO Fundamentals to Start

No surprise, the first things you should examine are the fundamentals. Your page titles and headers should be keyword rich, as should your copy. (Particularly the copy nearest the top of each page.) Meta descriptions should be informative and enticing, as they’re a key factor in encouraging clicks from the search results pages.

Alt tags — and accessibility more broadly — should also be a part of your pre-publication checklist for all content. There has been increased scrutiny on accessibility compliance over the past few years. This may require a shift in your approach to coding, design, and content. It’s not directly related to SEO success, but quite a bit of accessibility compliance best practices overlap with SEO best practices.

Technical performance counts, too. Search engines use page load speeds and other measures as factors in their rankings, knowing that how quickly a page loads contributes significantly to overall user experience.

Finally, be sure you understand your analytics data. Ask the questions that get you information you can turn into actionable insights. Get your analytics team to set up reports to include those data points on your dashboard.

Do Your Research

There’s keyword research, of course, which will tell you what language your prospects are using to find the information they want. Don’t forget that the same research can also paint a useful picture of what your prospects’ pain points are.

You should also be doing competitive research. Identify which of your competitors are having SEO success and understand what keywords and kinds of content they are producing to help them win.

Chart Your Own Path with Great Content

Once you’ve identified your most successful competition and their methods, it may make sense to zig where they’ve zagged. Carving out your own niche is often preferable to trying to unseat the incumbents. Just be sure the niche you create still serves the needs of your audience.

Then, it’s all about the quality of the content. It must be useful, actionable, and engaging. No one expects your B2B content to be as entertaining as the latest Netflix sensation, but it’s wise to remember that no matter how boring your industry, your prospects still go home at night to Netflix, Hulu, and other highly entertaining diversions.

The bar is lower for us as marketers, but only if our content helps our prospects succeed.

More Rules and Regulations for Content Marketers

So, content marketers, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard.

Privacy protection, accessibility, and copyright —  oh, my!

Last time around, we talked about data privacy regulations as they apply to non-transactional sites. As confusing a landscape as those regulations currently present, they’re not the only regulations with which you need to be aware and compliant.

So, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard than it has been, so you’ll want to be sure you have a plan in place to build your site by the book and to remain compliant. Otherwise, you risk spending more time talking to lawyers than to prospects.

Accessibility

If you built your website without accessibility in mind, chances are you’re not going to be happy when your website developers tell you what it’s going to cost to make it compliant. In many cases, it can make more sense to start from scratch, given the investment involved.

On the plus side, the cost to design and build a new website with compliance in mind is only incrementally greater than building that same site without WCAG Level AA compliance as your goal.

There is some extra work to be done, but for the most part, compliance requires a change in mindset for designers and some slightly different coding tactics for the dev team. Once that’s in place, it’s really only a matter of making sure new content additions are made in a compliant manner. (Image alt tags must be included, for example.)

You’ll want to include an accessibility statement on your site that includes a way for visitors who are having trouble consuming your content to contact you and seek remediation.

Privacy and Data Protection

As we’ve discussed, you need a privacy policy and you need to abide by it. If you haven’t told people that you’re planning on selling their email addresses to the highest bidder, you probably can’t. (Regulations differ by jurisdiction and industry; check with a lawyer.)

Once you have a collection of data, you need to take steps to keep that data safe, both in storage and in any transmittal or other use. Again, your industry may have specific compliance standards that you have to meet, and you may need to document the protections you’ve put in place.

Copyright

If you don’t own it, don’t publish it. This should be obvious, but often marketers make mistakes that can be costly.

Images are the most common area where errors occur. Doing a web search and then publishing any old image you find is a recipe for disaster. Going through a respected stock image library and paying for the images you use is the safest approach.

If you’d prefer not to go that route, you can use the Google Advanced Image Search tool. It is an excellent way to search for images to use in your digital marketing if you filter to include only those that are “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.”

Don’t even think about trying to use an image from a stock image library without licensing it. They can and will find you. They can and will demand payment, usually well beyond what the initial license would have cost. (Also worth noting is that technically, for most stock image libraries, any image you use should be licensed under your firm’s name rather than by your design agency. That approach is also just smart business, because you may not always be working with that design team.)

When copy is purloined, it’s even easier to track down. Even if you get away with it, the search engines may very well penalize you for publishing duplicate content. There are other ways to get on the search engines’ bad sides, so be careful if you’re republishing content from other sources, even if it’s content that you have the right to republish.

Finally, think twice before stealing code. It’s an open source world, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to take and use anything you find in your travels. At the very least, attribution may be required. Most code libraries, snippets, etc., may require license fees — regardless of how they’re used. Some require payment only if you want updates or support. This can be harder for marketers to police, so be sure to have a regularly scheduled review with your dev team.

Spend Time on This

These regulations — and whatever may be coming down the pike in the future — make investing in digital expertise ever more important. Your team needs the time and mandate to stay on top of what regulations apply to your business and best practices for remaining compliant.

How New Data Protection Laws Affect Your Non-Transactional Website

Good news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever. Bad news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever.

Good news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever.

Bad news! Regulatory agencies are taking privacy policies and data protection more seriously than ever.

The increased regulatory activity is certainly good news for all of us as consumers. As marketers, that silver lining can be overshadowed by the cloud of fear, uncertainty, and doubt — to say nothing of the potentially enormous fines — attached to these new regulations. Let’s take a look at what your responsibilities are (or are likely to become) as privacy regulations become more widely adopted.

Before we begin: I’m not a lawyer. You should absolutely consult one, as there are so many ways the various regulations may or may not apply to your firm. Many of the regulations are regional in nature — GDPR applies to the EU, CCPA to California residents, the SHIELD Act to New York State — but the “placelessness” of the Internet means those regulations may still apply to you, if you do business with residents of those jurisdictions (even though you’re located elsewhere).

Beyond Credit Cards and Social Security Numbers

With the latest round of rules, regulators are taking a broader view of what constitutes personally identifiable information or “PII.” This is why regulations are now applicable for a non-transactional website.

We are clearly beyond the era when the only data that needed to be safeguarded was banking information and social security numbers. Now, even a site visitor’s IP address may be considered PII. In short, you are now responsible for data and privacy protection on your website, regardless of that website’s purpose.

Though a burden for site owners, it’s not hard to understand why this change is a good thing. With so much data living online now, the danger isn’t necessarily in exposing any particular data point, but in being able to piece so many of them together.

Fortunately, the underlying principles are nearly as simple as the regulations themselves are confusing.

SSL Certificates

Perhaps the most basic element of data protection is an SSL certificate. Though it isn’t directly related to the new regulatory environment it’s a basic foundational component of solid data handling. You probably already have an SSL certificate in place; if not, that should be your first order of business. They’re inexpensive — there are even free versions available — and they have the added benefit of improving search engine performance.

Get Consent

Second on your list of good data-handling practices is getting visitor consent before gathering information. Yes, opt-in policies are a pain. Yes, double opt-in policies are even more of a pain — and can drive down engagement rates. Both are necessary to adhere to some of the new regulations.

This includes not only information you gather actively — like email addresses for gated content — but also more passive information, like the use of cookies on your website.

Give Options

Perhaps the biggest shift we’re seeing is toward giving site visitors more options over how their PII is being used. For example, the ability to turn cookies off when visiting a site.

You should also provide a way for consumers to see what information you have gathered and associated with their name, account, or email address.

Including the Option to Be Forgotten

Even after giving consent, consumers should have the right to change their minds. As marketers, that means giving them the ability to delete the information we’ve gathered.

Planning Ad Responsibilities For Data Breaches

Accidents happen, new vulnerabilities emerge, and you can’t control every aspect of your data handling as completely as you’d like. Being prepared for the possibility of a data breach is as important as doing everything you can to prevent them in the first place.

What happens when user information is exposed will depend on the data involved, your location, and what your privacy and data retention policies have promised, as well as which regulations you are subject to.

Be prepared with a plan of action for addressing all foreseeable data breaches. In most cases, you’ll need to alert those who have been or may have been affected. There may also be timeframes in which you must send alerts and possibly remediation in the form of credit or other monitoring.

A Small Investment Pays Off

As a final note, I’ll circle back to the “I’m not a lawyer” meme. A lawyer with expertise in this area is going to be an important part of your team. So, too, will a technology lead who is open to changing how he or she has thought about data privacy in the past. For those who haven’t dealt with transactional requirements in the past, this can be brand new territory which may require new tools and even new vendors.

All of this comes at a price, of course, but given the stakes — not just the fines, but the reputational losses, hits to employee morale, and lost productivity — it’s a small investment for doing right by your prospects and customers.

Here’s a Website Performance Checklist to Kick 2020 Off Right

Reviewing your website’s security practices, privacy policies, accessibility, and analytics can help improve performance over the course of the year. You can still pledge to get the most from your website. This website performance checklist can help.

No need to abandon all hope if your New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. You can still pledge to get the most from your website in 2020. This website performance checklist can help.

None of these topics are particularly sexy. Nor are they likely to have the kind of top-line impact (read: massive increases in revenue) that lead to promotions and bonuses. But they can save you a ton of pain and regret throughout the year. And without a doubt, they will make those revenue-spiking initiatives that much more successful.

Security Review

Having your domain blacklisted is nobody’s idea of fun. Because there’s no “Undo” button, once you’re in trouble, it’s time-consuming to get out. So, it is well worth reviewing your site’s security to ensure that no evil lurks in the heart of your coding.

Check your traffic logs and firewall settings to make sure you’re still keeping as much malicious activity off your site as possible.

If your site is custom coded, confirm with your developers that the code base is being updated regularly to guard against malware and other attacks. (Even fully customized sites generally rely on code libraries or frameworks that can be the target of attacks.)

If you use a commercial CMS, do a similar check with the vendor. It can be helpful to also do a web search for “[my CMS name] vulnerabilities” and other phrases to find reports of attacks.

An open-source CMS requires a similar review:

  • Do you have the most recent version installed?
  • Are all of the plugins, modules, widgets, and other helper programs up to date?

In all of these cases, you should be on a regularly scheduled maintenance plan with your development team. Now is the time to make sure you have the most appropriate level of protection.

Don’t forget the basics. A quick review is all that should be required to make sure that your registrar and hosting accounts are secure and your domain name and SSL certificate are in order and not at risk of cancellation. If you host internally, review server access to eliminate the chance of former employees making mischief.

Privacy Review

If GDPR and CCPA sound like alphabet soup to you, it’s definitely time to review your site’s privacy policy and things like data retention. This is now true even for non-transactional sites. GDPR may apply only to those of us who work with E.U. residents, but CCPA applies to most firms who interact with California residents. The Shield law applies to every firm in New York State.

That’s a lot to keep track of and understanding your responsibilities can be overwhelming. Given the potential fines involved, this is not an area where you want to take all of your advice from a marketer, coder, or (ahem) digital strategist. Be sure to have a knowledgeable lawyer review your privacy policies and practices.

Accessibility Review

Making websites accessible to people with disabilities is an area that has grown in importance over the past 18 months or so because of an increase in legal actions, even though the relevant regulations aren’t new.

The good news is that building new websites to be accessible isn’t particularly difficult, nor is maintaining that accessibility as new content is added. Both require an understanding of the requirements and a shift in approach.

The story is not quite as rosy for bringing existing sites into compliance, which tends to be more labor-intensive. Adjustments may include changes to branding and in-depth review of content (image alt tags, for example), as well as less visible coding changes.

There are a number of excellent assessment tools that can help you get an understanding of the effort required to make the site compliant. But a deeper, manual scan will also be required to uncover everything.

Analytics Review

Finally, don’t forget to review your analytics. This is one area that just may uncover insights that can lead to revenue growth that and a move closer to the corner office, though more likely those improvements will be incremental.

  • Compare statistics year-over-year to see where you’ve improved and where performance has fallen off.
  • Determine whether your mobile audience is growing or holding steady. (It’s probably not shrinking.)
  • Review traffic sources to see how visitors are finding you. That can guide adjustments to your marketing efforts.

You may be doing quite a bit of this on a monthly or quarterly basis as part of your marketing efforts. Still, it’s worth it to expand beyond that scope to look at broader performance and strive for continual improvement throughout 2020 and beyond.

Marketing Is a Team Sport, But Many Organizations Don’t Have the Memo

Marketing is a team sport. Every touchpoint is a part of the client’s buying experience, even post-sale. Marketing must have a seat at the table when decisions are made that shape those touchpoints.

In your organization, does marketing have a seat at the table when financial, product, or other management decisions are made? Two recent personal experiences make it clear to me that in many organizations, decisions are either made without input from the marketing team or are made despite a marketing team’s ideas. Organizations should realize that marketing is a team sport.

The Business of Medicine

I recently asked my doctor to combine two outpatient procedures into one appointment. His scheduler said he wouldn’t do so. I noted that my last doctor had been willing to do this for me and that doing so saved me a missed day of work and saved my wife a lot of time having to drive me around. (No driving after anesthesia.)

The scheduler talked a good game: There was increased risk with a longer procedure. That’s why the doctor wouldn’t do two procedures together.

A quick web search turned up all sorts of studies disproving this, as well as some interesting chat room conversations between doctors debating the issue. The bottom line was, well, their bottom line: Insurance companies reimburse at a much lower rate for one combined procedure than for two separate appointments. I can only think that money was what motivated my doctor’s position.

The financial difference to the practice is not insignificant, but for an organization that probably bills more than $2 million a year, is $1,200 worth the negative word of mouth I’ve spread since my experience?

Of course, it’s likely the case that a small medical practice won’t even have a marketing team. So this decision may have been made without anyone thinking from a patient’s — that is, a client’s — perspective.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

DirecTV, on the other hand, most certainly does have a marketing department. I sure hope they weren’t consulting on the decision to withhold refunds from cancelling customers for four months — and then pay that refund via gift card, “for your convenience.”

My guess is that a number-cruncher somewhere realized how much they could make with this petty idea. And though I don’t know for a fact that the marketing team didn’t sign off on the decision, my guess is that the accounting department didn’t even consider how this interaction would make customers feel.

Every Touchpoint is a Marketing Touchpoint

The question for marketers is, “Why aren’t we more involved in these decisions?”

It doesn’t take much searching to find other instances like this, both in the B2C and B2B worlds. It’s critical for your entire team to realize that every touchpoint is a part of the client’s buying experience, even post-sale. That makes every touchpoint a part of your sales and marketing process.

Can You Put a Value on Customer Experience?

You may not win every battle when it comes to customer experience vs. efficiency, but marketing should at least be a part of the discussion. And you should be pressing for testing that can verify whether the efficiency is coming at too high a price. However you measure customer satisfaction, make sure it includes testing of the kind of policies that elicit complaints from clients.

Above all, don’t let these decisions force you to play your prospects and customers for fools. They’re not. They know how to use a search engine. They’ve seen the same tricks before from other myopic organizations. Consider interviewing customer service teams to find what policies make your customers miserable.

Marketing won’t get far without a great product to sell. It won’t fare much better without a great customer experience, too.

3-Part Pre-Production Content Marketing Checklist

Here’s a three-part pre-production checklist of the questions your content needs to answer in order for it to succeed. Last time around, we talked about how long the content on your website pages should be if your goal is to attract, engage, and retain your audience through content marketing.

Last time around, we talked about how long the content on your website pages should be if your goal is to attract, engage, and retain your audience through content marketing.

This month, let’s look at a checklist of what your articles need, regardless of length, in order to succeed as content marketing. We’ve found that the best way to build a checklist that works for you is to identify the questions you must answer before you put pencil to paper — or fingertips to tapping.

Who Am I Trying to Reach?

Your first checklist item should focus on who you are trying to reach. You may be pro or con when it comes to the value of creating prospect personae, but they are an excellent way to draw a clear picture of who your target audience is. If you have another approach you prefer, that’s fine. Just as long as your profile includes data points on your prospects’ professional lives, as well as demographic information. Here are a few examples. The data points that are relevant to your marketing will vary.

Professional Profile

  • Title
  • Role
  • Department
  • Company size
  • Location

Demographic Profile

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Level of education

What Is My Prospect’s Motivation?

Once you have a picture of who your prospect is, you need to understand what is driving them to seek the change that you could potentially provide. In other words, what are their pain points around this problem?

The key here is to dive into their pain points as deeply as possible. Your goal should be to not only know what their pain points are, but to understand why they are pain points, in the first place.

In most cases, that will require calculating what the value of solving the problem is to the prospect and his or her organization. That can help you determine your pricing and their sense of urgency.

As critically, you’ll want to identify what the costs will be of doing nothing. (That is often your biggest competitor, rather than another solution provider.)

As you identify the most critical benefits to your prospect, you may find your content beginning to take shape. Those benefits — or language alluding to them — are often best used as sub-headings in your article.

What Is My Goal for This Page?

Your goal is always the same: Get the prospect to take action.

What that action is will depend on all of the data we covered above, as well as where in the buying cycle your prospect is. That last piece will likely determine the nature of your offer: Asking someone who is just beginning their research to agree to an in-person meeting is likely a non-starter, while a prospect who is putting together her short list will be much more open to the idea.

What’s Next?

Regardless of the action you seek, be sure you are thinking a few moves ahead, as a good chess players does. Once they’ve taken this action, what action would you like them to take next? What content can help you move your prospects in that direction?

With luck, your pre-writing checklist can help you not only with the content piece in front of you, but with fitting what you create into a broader content library and content marketing strategy.

How Long Should Your Content Marketing Articles Be?

How long your content marketing articles are is critical to their success, but there is no one right length. How long any particular article should be depends on what that article’s purpose is, who you’re trying to reach, and where they are in the buying process.

If you’re like most marketers, you’ve got two very different voices whispering in your ears about length for your content marketing materials. They may not be devil and angel exactly, but they are most certainly not in agreement.

On the one hand, er, shoulder, you’ve got a voice telling you that nobody reads anymore, everyone scans, so don’t bother making long-form content. Keep it short and digestible.

On the other shoulder, there is a voice (perhaps in the form of your SEO expert) telling you that every article needs to break at least 300 words — ideally, 500 — to effectively rank well.

As you try to decide which voice to heed, here are a few things to consider.

What Data Tells Us About Content Length

A quick Google search will give you all sorts of information about how long your content marketing pages should be.

Plenty of sources will site the 300- to 500-word minimum mentioned above.

Neil Patel says that he focuses on content in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. (While, at the same time, advising us to not write content that is too in-depth!)

Seth Godin seems to be doing quite well for himself with much shorter content.

So who’s right? Everyone and no one. Patel is doing what works for him. Godin has found a different path. You could — and should — argue that those aren’t really fair comparisons, as both of those marketers are “stars” on some level, and have much larger followings than you might.

That’s the point, though; there are always mitigating circumstances. And what’s right for you won’t necessarily work for someone else. Which means what the data should tell you is that you need to gather your own data.

Start with whatever you’re comfortable doing. If more frequent, shorter pieces feel right, dive right in. If you feel that longer-form articles are more your speed, that’s great. In either case, track what you’re doing, monitor the results, and experiment with content at other lengths. (And in other formats, for that matter.)

That’s the only way to find out what your audience wants from you.

What Is Your Article Designed to Do?

The next question you should be asking is, “What is my goal for this content?” Presumably, you’ll publish content of different types and with different goals in mind. Long-form content may be just the ticket for prospects who are close to making a buying decision, while shorter pieces that link to a lead magnet of some kind are the right way to gain trust with prospects who are just discovering you.

Similar differences might exist for different audience segments or for different product/service lines you may be marketing. Be sure you match the length and format of your content to its intended purpose and audience.

How to Use Varying Content Lengths to Your Advantage

Once we come to understand that different content lengths will work for us in different ways, we can layer on the ways in which our content elements should relate to one another. One popular way of thinking about this is the solar system model.

As you’d imagine, the idea here is to have a variety of “smaller” content elements orbiting around a bigger piece of cornerstone content. Not all of those orbiting pieces will necessarily be shorter, but there will be a general progression of large to small as you move away from the center.

For example, a how-to guide in the form of an eBook might be your cornerstone content. Each chapter of that book could perhaps be developed into a presentation (and slide deck) of its own. Many of the slides in that deck might work well as individual short videos.

Don’t Forget the Common Sense

What’s important to keep in mind is that while copy length does matter for your content marketing, there is no ideal length for all content marketing articles. There are many ideal lengths.

If you’re just starting out — or are wiping the decks and making a fresh start — and aren’t sure what lengths will work, it may be helpful to think about the conversations your sales, marketing, and customer service teams have with your prospects and clients. There will be an arc to those conversations that should guide the depth of your content for prospects at various places in the buying process. Your content length should match that arc.

When you’ve got it right, your data will let you know, and you would be wise to match your ongoing work to your data — while still experimenting to find the next great sweet spot for your content marketing.

Using Headlines Well in Your Content Marketing

How you construct your content marketing headlines will impact your ability to reach and engage your target audience. Different approaches are appropriate for different goals.

Last time out, we talked about ways to make your content marketing work harder for you. We can continue that conversation by turning our attention to how headlines impact your ability to attract your target audience.

Headlines Can be Clever or Conceptual

First, there are two very broad approaches to writing headlines: clever and conceptual.

Clever headlines are interestingly written and meant to be attention-getting. They pique curiosity. So, for example, I could have titled the post I mentioned above something like, “Build It and They Won’t Come.” A dyed-in-the-wool SEO would take issue with that — and with this approach, in general — as it simply isn’t geared for SEO performance. More on that in a moment.

The other approach, broadly, is to highlight the concepts or topics you’re discussing, as in the case of that article’s actual title, “3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You.”

Clearly, if strong SEO performance is your goal, then the conceptual approach is the way to go. There are going to be far more searches done each month along the lines of, “How can I make my content marketing work harder” than there are for, “If I build my website will they come?”

On the other hand, if your goal with a particular piece of content is to engage more deeply with an audience who already knows you well, then the clever approach can be a better choice. Remember that as much as we want to be informed when we’re consuming marketing content, we also want to be entertained. You’re probably never going to rise to the level of enjoyment that the latest bingeworthy streaming show will have, but that doesn’t mean you need to be the content consumption equivalent of a root canal. Have some fun and your audience likely will, too.

Keyword Considerations

Implied above are considerations about keyword usage. If you can include them, do. That’s generally going to be harder to do with clever headlines; though you may be willing to make that sacrifice, depending on your goals. For more topical headlines, be sure you’re using the best keyword phrases you can. (In my example, we would want to know for sure that “making content marketing work harder” is likely to get more search attention than “making content marketing more effective.”)

How Long Should Your Headlines Be?

Once you decide on your approach, there are more technical matters to address. For example, headline length. According to research done by Backlinko, “headlines that are 14-17 words in length generate 76.7% more social shares than short headlines.”

If your goal is generating something other than social sharing, you might need to look at different metrics. (Which is one reason to take all metrics like these with a grain of salt. Even if they were generated using rigorous protocols, they might simply not be appropriate for your situation. Use them as a guide and gather your own data.)

Should Your Headlines Be Questions?

Backlinko data also tells us that headlines in the form of a question “get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.”

Again, that’s a very specific metric, aimed at achieving a very specific goal. So don’t twist yourself or your ideas into knots just to tick off a particular box.

The point of these examples isn’t for you to view any of these data points as the gospel truth for your own content marketing work. It’s to encourage you to recognize that paying attention to the details can yield great benefits in your content marketing.

3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You

Content marketing success requires work before you begin writing, as well as after you’ve hit the publish button. Here are tips to help ensure you’re reaching the right audience with the right message.

To make your content marketing do more, you need to do more with it.

There are any number of reasons you may not be seeing the return you expect on your content marketing. Here are a few, and how you can address the issue to improve your results.

‘Write It and They Will Read It’ Is Wrong

Long gone are the days when anyone sane thinks that building a website will “automagically” win you an audience and convert that audience into paying clients. But there’s less clarity around the idea that simply publishing your content — even if it’s great content — is enough to power marketing properly. We see too many marketers doing just that.

The truth is that once you’ve published your content, you’re about halfway there. You still have the work of getting your content in front of the right audience. We can’t cover here all of the ways in which you can promote your content, but the list certainly includes social media, email marketing, paid digital advertising, and even old stalwarts like direct mail.

The goal is to reach beyond your existing network to attract new prospects. At the same time, you should be sure that what you’re writing encourages engagement. Will your prospects want to share it with their colleagues as they’re considering their options? Does it offer a different perspective than anything else out there?

You Haven’t Done Your Competitive Research

Speaking of which, do you know what kind of content your competitors are publishing? If you’re publishing the same kind of content and they already have a bigger audience, you face an arduous task.

There’s just so much content marketing going on now that if you’re not standing out from the crowd naturally, you’re going to have to work that much harder at the promotion and distribution we talked about above.

You’ll find it much more fruitful to stake a separate ground; either by offering a different perspective, concentrating on a very tightly defined niche, or differentiating yourself in some other way. Forget any ideas you have of doing the same thing better. Except in the rare cases where your competition is truly asleep at the wheel, better is going to be in the eye of the beholder, and you may not be as obviously superior as you think in their eyes.

Relevance Is Not Irrelevant

Finally, there’s the holy grail of knowing that what you write matters to your audience. In the B2B world, nobody is on your website because they have a few hours to kill and they’ve already watched all of the videos on YouTube. They’re on your website because they have a problem to solve.

If your content doesn’t help them solve that problem or give them a greater understanding of what they should be considering as they search for the best-fit solution, it isn’t going to get read. So even if you do everything else right — carve out a niche and promote your content to an expanding audience — you’re not going to see content marketing results, because you’re not going to attract the right audience.

And ultimately, that’s the goal of content marketing: attract the right audience in a way that gains their trust and moves them toward a decision — hopefully, a decision to work with you.