If you want to win at content marketing, you need a content marketing strategy.
Because when you have one, you’ll be able to achieve results like this:
In this post, I’ll show you how to create a winning content marketing strategy based on our experience at Ahrefs.
What exactly is a content marketing strategy?
A content marketing strategy is a plan for consistently creating high-quality content designed to turn strangers into customers.
Most people think this has to be something complicated, but that’s not true.
In fact, our strategy at Ahrefs is pretty simple. We create educational blog posts and YouTube videos that teach people how to solve their problems with the help of our tools. We focus on search engine optimization (SEO) during the content creation process, so our content appears for relevant searches.
Below, I’ll explain how you can replicate our strategy in nine simple steps.
- Set a goal
- Know your audience
- Choose a content type
- Find what people are searching for
- Prioritize the most promising topics
- Create a content calendar
- Promote your content
- Monitor the results
- Refresh your content
Goal setting can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re familiar with concepts like SMART goals and OKRs, feel free to use them.
However, we prefer to keep things simple.
That’s why our content marketing goal is simply to attract targeted traffic from search engines like Google and YouTube.
Your goal might be different, and that’s okay. Some other common goals include:
- Get more inbound leads for your sales team
- Attract links to your site
- Build brand awareness
- Become a thought leader in your industry
For this post, we’ll assume that, like us, you want more targeted traffic.
Step 2. Know your audience
Content marketing isn’t about attracting anyone and everyone to your website. You need to attract people who might actually buy your product or service.
That might sound obvious, but it’s a common mistake, especially for those new to content marketing.
For example, let’s say you run a video production company. Should you write a blog post about “how to color correct in Adobe Premiere Pro?” Probably not, because this isn’t what your customers are looking for. It’s what other video editors are searching for.
If you’re targeting small business owners looking for video production help, you need to target topics they’re interested in instead.
And the only way to do that is to be clear about who you’re trying to target.
To do this, you can consider creating a buyer persona. This is an “imaginary person” that represents the common characteristics of your ideal customer.
Here’s what that might look like for us:
Is this something you have to do? Not really. For example, we’ve never done this exercise at Ahrefs because we already knew who we were trying to target.
So, if you already feel you’ve got a good grasp of who your target customers are, feel free to skip this step. However, if it’s something you’ve never really thought about, it can be a useful exercise to put this down on paper. Here’s a good guide explaining how to do this.
Step 3. Choose a content type
Blog posts, videos, podcasts, webinars—there are tons of content types you can choose from.
However, if you’re starting out, don’t try to run before you walk. Just choose one.
How? There are two aspects you should consider.
First, think about what type of content your audience consumes. For us, that was blog posts, as most SEOs use Google to find information. If you run a cooking academy and want to share recipes, videos might be a better option.
Second, think about where your skillset lies. Some people are naturals on camera, while others can’t bear to hear their own voice. If you’re the latter, written content might work better.
If you’re stuck, start with either blogging or video marketing.
No matter what industry you’re in, your audience will almost certainly be looking for information on Google and YouTube. So, either format will be a good starting point.
Once you’ve decided, stick with this format until you’ve figured out a process for creating it consistently. Only then should you branch out to a new format.
That’s what we did. Almost all our efforts were on the blog until 2018, when we hired Sam to take over our YouTube channel. And Tim, our Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) didn’t focus on other content marketing formats (like courses and free tools) until he delegated the blog and YouTube to Josh and Sam.
Step 4. Find what people are searching for
Our content marketing goal is to attract targeted traffic from search engines like Google and YouTube. So, besides knowing who our audience is, we also need to know what they’re searching for. That’s the only way we can create the type of content they want to see and attract traffic from search engines month after month.
For this, you’ll need a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.
To start, brainstorm a few relevant ‘seed’ keywords. If you sell coffee online, these might be “coffee,” “coffee beans,” and “french press.”
Paste these keywords in Keywords Explorer, and select Google or YouTube depending on the type of content you’re creating.
Next, go to the “Questions” report. You should see a giant list of keywords and their monthly search volumes and other SEO metrics.
If you’re not sure what ‘seed’ keywords to use, look at what your competitors are already ranking for in Google to get some ideas. How? Paste your competitor’s URL into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and go to the “Top pages” report.
This report ranks the pages on a website by estimated organic search traffic. In other words, you now have a list of your competitors’ top-performing articles and the keywords that send them the most traffic.
Step 5. Prioritize the most promising topics
Since your goal is to get more targeted traffic, you should prioritize the most relevant topics for your business.
We do this by assigning a ‘business value’ score to each topic.
Here’s the scale we use:
- “3”— our product is an irreplaceable solution for the problem;
- “2” — our product helps quite a bit, but it’s not essential to solving the problem;
- “1” — our product helps marginally;
- “0” — our product doesn’t help solve or relate to the problem at all.
The neat thing about this scale is that it can be applied to pretty much any industry.
For example, let’s say you sell coffee equipment online. A topic like “how to make latte at home” will probably be a “3,” since searchers will at least need to buy a milk frother to do this properly.
On the other hand, a topic like “how to clean a coffee maker” would likely be assigned a “2”. Although you might sell specialistic cleaning products, most searchers probably already have something they can use to clean their machine, like white vinegar. So they probably aren’t going to buy anything from your store today.
Finally, topics like “how to get coffee out of the carpet” would be either a “0” or “1”. While it’s still topically relevant, people searching for this are unlikely to be coffee enthusiasts with a penchant for expensive brewing equipment. Maybe they just spilled a mug of instant coffee.
It’s up to you which topics you do and don’t cover. We focus on topics that score 2–3 and rarely publish anything that scores a zero.
Step 6. Create a content calendar
Consistent content creation is all about finding the balance between your content quality and the speed of production. Your goal is to publish as often as possible without dropping your quality standards. After all, there is no point in posting content that doesn’t get read, watched, or listened to.
Unfortunately, we can’t say how often works for you. It varies from business to business. But what we can tell you is that you need a content calendar to keep things on track.
Content calendars are just schedules showing what you plan to publish and when.
For example, this is what our content calendar looks like at Ahrefs:
With this simple calendar, we can easily see at a glance who’s working on what, the stage they’re at, and when the content is ready for publishing.
This keeps everything organized and ensures we’re publishing consistently.
Step 7. Promote your content
Content doesn’t get discovered on its own. You have to get it in front of people so they will read and hopefully share or link to it.
Here are a few simple content promotion ideas to get you started:
1. Send new content to your email subscribers
This one is the oldest trick in the book for a reason: it works.
Every time we produce a new piece of content, we send out a dedicated email to our ~70k engaged subscribers.
In content marketing, there is a secondary, “hidden” audience that most people neglect to target.
Known as “amplifiers,” these are the journalists and influencers who can share and amplify your content to their followers.
If you can somehow get these people to care about your content, you could potentially earn shares, links, referral traffic, or even future partnership opportunities.
In digital marketing, this is known as “outreach.”
And the key to doing this well is having a compelling reason so that they will care.
Here are just two reasons that you can use:
- You mentioned them (or their work) in your content. As you’re creating content, chances are you’ve mentioned resources from other content creators. So, it’s a quick, extra step to let them know you’ve mentioned their work.
- You have something groundbreaking the influencer didn’t know about, but is genuinely interested in. For example, you might have done a data study where you found some unique findings, like our own study on how 91% of content doesn’t get any search traffic.
That second one has worked well for us on numerous occasions. In fact, we recently created a list of SEO statistics and reached out to over 500 bloggers that were linking to outdated statistics. As a result, we earned links from 32 websites.
Learn how we did that here:
3. Paid ads
Paid advertising is probably the fastest way to get your content in front of new prospects. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, when you put some money into paid ads, you’re paying for trackable results: from impressions to clicks and conversions.
Right now, we promote every new post with Facebook ads. If these ads perform well, we invest more money into the ad (this generally means a low CPC of < $0.30).
We also regularly sponsor podcasts and run YouTube ads:
If you create YT tutorials that feature your product, consider spending ???? on ads. Doesn’t have to be a lot. In July, we spent 154.62 SGD (~112.75 USD) for 174.8 hours of watch time (10,488 minutes).
That’s $0.01/min or $0.65/hour. Name a cheaper medium for relevant/focused attn— Sam Oh (@samsgoh) August 16, 2020
Step 8. Monitor the results
Since things change all the time, we also have to ensure that our content stays relevant to rank years down the road. That’s why it’s crucial to monitor content, and there are various ways to do that.
The first thing that most people think of is Google Analytics. This is the industry-standard when it comes to checking actual traffic numbers.
If you’re creating YouTube videos, then, of course, you should be looking at YouTube Analytics.
And finally, since ranking high on Google is important to us, we keep track of our rankings via Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker. We do this by tracking the main target keyword for each post.
If traffic and rankings for a specific page drop for a few months in a row, we’ll start looking into why that happened. And in most cases, we often schedule a rewrite or update of the post.
Step 9. Refresh your content
As I just mentioned, you should keep an eye on how well your written content is doing at any given point of time.
If it’s maintaining its rankings in search results, it probably doesn’t need updating.
If it’s rapidly dropping ranks and losing visibility, though, it’s probably time to give it a makeover.
That might mean just updating a bit of information to keep it fresh, or rewriting the post entirely. At Ahrefs, we usually wait about six months to give a blog post time to rank before deciding to rewrite (video format doesn’t exactly have this luxury, though.)
For a more comprehensive guide on how to refresh your content, read this post, or watch the video:
Content marketing is like investing in index funds. In the short term, returns are small. But over the long-term, it can generate significant returns, but only if you stick with it and keep investing.
It’s the same deal with content marketing. It takes effort to get started, and it takes time to work. But focus on it long-term, and it’ll get you results.
Have questions? Ping me on Twitter.