Everybody knows that content is king. But, these days, figuring out how to make content that is worthy of the crown that readers will worship is a far more nuanced process. As much as we creative writers would like to believe, developing the right content for the right audience takes more than just some skill with pen and parchment. Content Marketing goes one step, two steps, many steps further.
The best content marketing agencies know how to build their content roadmaps around keyword research and user queries. It’s not enough to know what topics and primary keywords your users may be interested in. You need to know the questions they are asking and the specific solutions they are looking for.
This is the difference between the goods and the greats. The best online writers are not just writers, but content marketers – versed in market research and keyword roadmapping that informs how they write their content and who they write it for.
If you are attempting to create informative and innovative content without Google Analytics, Keyword Explorer, and SEMRush (for starters) you are essentially trying to drive across country without a map. You may very well get to the other coast, eventually. But you’re journey will be rife with inconsistencies, inefficiency, and missed opportunities that you would have capitalized on had you known they were there to begin with.
Where to Start
We already know that the best content developers distinguish themselves as content marketers and not just writers. But content marketing requires, as I said before, a great deal of research and sweat equity before you ever put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). So where to start?
A strong content marketer works more like a detective than a formula writer. Just because the words “roadmap,” “strategy,” and “template” are often associated with content marketing doesn’t mean that there is a set equation for how to create good content and all you need to do is plug in the right keywords and out pops your golden egg.
No, it’s far from that. Each piece you write requires it’s own market research, keyword research, link building plan, targeted audience – the devil is always in the details. When you’re trying to scale the impact your content should have on your targeted user, following the 80-20rule should keep you focused on the right priorities.
The 80-20 rule proposes that 20% of your content generates 80% of your traffic. This means that the 20% you’ve identified as your money content better be packing one heck of a punch.
Again, “packing a punch” here means more than just being the most creative or best written piece in a given subject. It means going beyond the “what” of the search into the “why” and “how” of the user – what questions are they asking and what answers are they looking for?
“X” Marks the Spot
As ecommerce experts in an increasingly post-digital marketing world built on collaborative consumption and pervasive social media, we need to be focused on building new trends instead of catching up to old ones.
This requires us to stand on the blinking edge of search engine user behavior and technology to see how they are interactively looking for information and what questions they are asking.
Knowing from where to launch your content roadmap begins with your already existing pages and identifying which keywords and what demographics you need to be focusing on. Site audits such as these can give you loads of information about what aspects of your site need to be optimized such as landing pages, CTAs, optimized site architecture, etc. But for now you can focus on your keywords and rankings.
SEMRush is a great site for this. Once you enter the domain url you are researching, it will show you a list of all of their pages and what keywords they are ranking for. It will even show you the page’s current ranking on the SERP for that keyword. So if you have pages currently ranked at 11 for a given keyword, and you want to boost them up onto the first page of the SERP, then you know you should be developing your content around that keyword.
Knowing where to start is different, however, from knowing how to get started. Now that you know your targeted keywords, you need to figure out the different contexts in which users are entering your keyword into the search bar. There are plenty of great sites that help you fine tune your keyword research around user search queries.
A favorite of mine is AnswerThePublic.
Answer the Public is incredibly useful for content roadmapping because it reformats keyword entries into user queries. Remember, you are looking for the “why” not the “what.” This site actually gives you the “who, what, when, where, and why,” … literally.
When you enter a given keyword or phrase into the “get questions” search bar Answer the Public organizes a list of queries into the five interrogative categories based on search volume.
In the example above, you can see that users are not just vaguely entering in the term “scuba diving” into the search bar, but they are looking for “what is scuba diving certification?” for “why scuba diving is dangerous?” for “how much does scuba diving cost?” and more specific questions of the like.
You can also use some industry tricks like “the wildcard” to identify long-tail search modifications that are popular amongst users. The wildcard is a great tool that helps content marketers account for Google’s predictive search capabilities.
I’m sure most users have noticed that when you enter something into the search bar, in most cases, Google will try to guess what it is you are searching for and complete the query for you. You can see what search modifications are being used in the highest volume by making use of the wildcard.
All you need to do is enter a given keyword or phrase into the search bar and type an underscore after it, the search engine will provide you with the top three search modifications associated with that word. Combining this with your Answer the Public research should make identifying what questions users are asking much more efficient and accurate.
The advantage of the wildcard tactic is that you can find suggested queries that aren’t usually
These are the questions your content should be answering – your “x marks the spot.”
Get to Writing
So you’ve identified the keywords and the questions around which you will build your content. Time to sit down, put on the cold brew, and let the ink flow – right?
Wrong ! !
It’s called content roadmapping for a reason – while each piece requires its own individual research and audience, they are each still part of a bigger picture. Roadmapping your content strategy as a whole will help keep your writers on track as well as keep them from burning out. You don’t want your pages shriveling up or stalling out because your team is dealing with writer’s block.
Content marketing is far more of a process than it is a completable project. Once you have a base for what demographic you are writing for, you then need to map out what your campaign goals are and how each piece works towards boosting a given aspect of your page (whether it is traffic, conversions, engagements) and what pages your are trying to optimize.
For example: even if there is a large volume of search entries about snapchat geofilters being used at marketing events, if you have yet to write anything related to social media, your readership might be confused and put-off by your random subject shift.
A specific piece such as that may be better suited for later down your roadmap for after you have had time to develop your social media content campaign. There’s nothing worse than writing for the wrong audience or missing the target altogether. Establishing authority on a subject is your first priority if you want your content to be taken seriously.
As a rule your roadmap should fluctuate from the wider topics to more nuanced and specific pieces, refocusing each week on the keywords you need to be boosting. You should also be consistently reperforming your keyword research and site audits to see if there are any sudden shifts in your pages’ performance that would garner your immediate attention.
If you are looking for a template for your individual pieces, stick to the 80-20 rule and keep your content incredibly innovative, informative, and – most importantly – actionable.
You aren’t writing of everyone sitting around you in your office, you’re writing for your viewers sitting at home on their couches trying to learn how to do what you do on their own. Don’t confuse them with theory and vague buzzwords like “conversion boosting” or “improve XYZ.”
Give them actionable tips that will provide tangible results. Instead of giving out advice like “improve your landing pages with a personal touch” that readers have to parse through and figure out how to implement, try giving them specific actions to test out.
Explicitness matters, through and through. You want to walk them through it step by step: “Use an introduction video on your landing page above the fold to put a face to your business,” or “Having an employee directory available within your pagination will make you appear more transparent and trustworthy to first time visitors which should increase site duration and conversions.”
Think of this simple but solid example: compare my “expertise” on the subject of tie tying if I were to tell you to “tie your tie around your neck and under your collar” versus if I provided you with the graphic below.
Content marketing strategy and development also goes further than just what advice you give. Making your pieces delightful to the user both mentally and visually all impacts how your content is received.
Remember that the average internet user is not famous for his/her attention span. We are constantly bombarded by information and advertisements all vying for our attention. So make keeping your readers attention easier on yourself.
Use white space . . .
Make sure you write in a more “point” oriented style when you are writing online, as opposed to the “paragraph” style of academic, legal, or literary writing. The best content will be the easiest to implement, and that starts with being the easiest to read.
The Right Crew
Your page authority is not yours alone. The internet is a series of interlinked pages that the crawlers and users navigate to find different pieces of content from different sources related to one another. You want your content to be relevant to as many search entries as possible, yes. But you don’t want to chase quantity at the sacrifice of quality and authority.
Follow the “good neighborhoods” and “bad neighborhoods” rule when considering which links and pages to associate with your content. This goes for both when you guest blog for other pages, as well as when you welcome guest blogging and backlinks to your domain.
Surrounding your content with other high quality, expert, authoritative content (putting your content in a good neighborhood) will boost your quality score and ranking. But doing so with spammy or uninformative content that your users don’t find useful (bad neighborhood) will only hurt your authority. A strong content marketing strategy plays off of the strengths of others as well as its own.
Don’t isolate your link building campaigns to just guest blogging either. Your internal linking strategy is just as important as your link building to external sites. If you have a blog piece about using video to increase your conversion rate, why wouldn’t you link to it in a separate blog piece about landing page optimization?
The longer you can keep the user within your domain, the higher you will end up ranking.
A good content marketer makes sure his reader has any and all information that they are looking for within his domain url. Don’t let somebody else answer your questions. Instead, build your site architecture around your content keywords.
If your primary keyword is something like “auto repair” your subfolders and content pages should be organized around the long tail modifications of that keyword such as “pricing,” “location,” and “timeline.” Page optimization and technical SEO tactics all come into play within content development.
Content marketing is a through and through campaign – there are no rest stops on this map.
The Never-ending Story
Online marketing is a continual process of innovation and adaption. Because content is the king of the online marketing world, it too must be innovative and adaptive. In fact, even more so.
So, once you have your piece developed (I say developed here because the process is far more inclusive than just writing), and have built your high quality backlink profile to support that piece, it’s finally time to hit publish.
P S Y C H ! ! !
Oh, you thought you crossed the finish line?
Too bad…there isn’t one.
Content development is always in a state of constant upkeep and adaptation. Monitoring your recent publications and optimizing their anchor text and keywords around the other pages you are trying to inform is only one of the upkeep tactics you’ll be employing as a content marketer.
Check out this awesome infographic to make sure you complete your checklist before you hit “publish.”
You should be monitoring more than just the success of your posts and the optimization of your pages. You should be a full on internet creeper on your audience and competition if you really want to climb your way to the top of the SERP. And keep tabs on social media trends and what your competitors are publishing to make sure your content is not only up to date but ahead of the curve.
Now, I could wrap this piece up with an allusion to the “long and winding road” that content marketing strategy entails. It sure would fit with my “roadmap” analogy. But, even if content development is based around hard earned data and research, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for flavor or humor. So why not end it this way:
Content Marketing is a “never ending story,” so get to writing it.