What is content marketing?

What is content marketing?  It’s a strategy I often recommend to my clients. If you enjoy writing, and are game to invest a little regular time, it’s an economical and potentially very effective way of promoting your business online.

It’s an extremely widespread strategy.  I’ll say that again. It’s an EXTREMELY widespread strategy. You are probably consuming reams of content marketing every day.

If you see an interesting article on Facebook, or you find an article through Google to answer a question you had, you are probably on the receiving end of someone’s content marketing.  The success of content marketing comes from the fact that those articles were interesting enough that you chose to read them.  This is marketing your business politely, rather than via the bombastic, shouty, jarring adverts that we are all bombarded with on the TV, billboards, leaflet, websites, and our social media feeds, and that we all strive to totally ignore.

Content marketing is about communicating with your potential customer base in a much more respectful and positive way, while still gently promoting yourself.

Isn’t my website enough?

These days a website is a key piece of marketing infrastructure for your business. It’s like having a business card or a leaflet. It communicates some key information, and helps you look legitimate.

Potential customers may visit it to check you out, see if you look like a real and professional business, or find answers to specific queries.

Google will index it, and your site may show up in their searches for specific relevant search terms. Like, if someone searched for ‘tuition in Oxford’, or ‘charity governance consultant’. If your site remains static though, with no new content being added on a regular basis, this will diminish your site’s Google ranking. In more technical language, it’s bad for your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

But, by itself, your website is not going to do much to actively market your business.  Your business does need a decent website, but it’s not going to do much to reach out to new people for you.

Can’t I just advertise on Facebook and Google?

Well sure, you’re definitely thinking along the right lines there. Facebook and Google take the bulk of the world’s online advertising spend, because they’re great places for most businesses to advertise.

And you can set up an ad (a sponsored post or listing) in either place, and pay them to show it to your potential customers. Users will see your ad, and you’ll set it up so when they click, they reach a suitable page on your website.

This is quite an expensive approach though. Google prices an ad according to how many people are competing to have their ad show up for each search term. So, if you want people to see your ad, if the thing you’re offering is at all popular, you’ll essentially have to outbid your competitors.

And with Facebook, they want their users (people like you and me) to find their news feedings interesting. If you want Facebook to plonk what is clearly an unsubtle advert in front of people, they’re going to charge you a lot for that privilege. You’ll pay a high cost per click for that kind of sponsored post.

OK so what is content marketing?

In simple terms, it’s about writing a blog, which works hard to promote your business, as cheaply as possible.

So, it’s about creating something interesting for people to read, with a title that will sincerely hook their attention, and tagging a plug for your business along in a more subtle fashion. This could be about imagery, like publishing a cute or interesting photo for your business, but at the moment I’m talking about writing an article. Article, blog post, news story, update, call it what you will.

If you write an engaging and well-thought out article (and I’ll be writing more soon on how to do that), Google may show it to people for free, and Facebook will potentially show it to people a lot cheaper than a straightforward advert. So for less money, you can reach a lot more people.

I would suggest to publish this post on your website, and then use social media to leverage your work as much as possible, by disseminating it to all of your fans and potential customers at once, as I explain here.

This has an additional benefit, in that Google likes websites which regularly add new content. It’s an indicator that your site is current, is engaging with users, is alive. They like that, and the pages of your site will do better in Google searches (improved SEO, in the jargon).

Why is it cheaper?

So with Facebook, you’ll still create an ad (or ‘boost’ your post), and when someone clicks it, they’ll be taken through the full blog post on your website, where hopefully you can engage them in your world and start selling your offering to them. The key though is that if your content is interesting, and not just a blatant plug for sales, Facebook will charge you a lot less to put it in front of people.

They work out how engaging your post is by showing it to a few people and seeing what happens. If people click and like and share and such, Facebook can see it’s interesting, and they won’t mind showing it to lots more people. If it’s really really interesting, it may go viral, with people sharing it willy nilly without you needing to pay at all (organic reach, in the jargon, as well as paid reach). If people ignore it, or click to ask Facebook not to show them this kind of rubbish any more thank you (oh no!), then Facebook will scale back, and also jack up what they’re going to charge you for it.

(Note that as I write, in 2018, Facebook just reduced how much paid content it is going to show people, and this is further to the ‘Reachpocalypse’ of several years ago when they also dramatically reduced the reach of business content, whether paid or unpaid. While this is disappointing for businesses wanting to promote themselves via Facebook, and it will increase our competition for the more limited spaces that are available, ultimately Facebook has to do something to filter down the volume of stuff that we businesses want to show to people. If Facebook becomes nothing but crappy advertising posts, all of us are going to log off and that will be the end of that. However I think we can also rest assured that Facebook is not going to stop businesses sponsoring content altogether, or shut us out unnecessarily, because our advertising spend is the way Facebook makes money.)

With Google, writing engaging content may actually get your words in front of people for free. If you select your subject matter carefully, and target specific relevant searches (SEO keywords, in the jargon, and I’ll write more on this later), Google may show people your article in the main body of the search page (organic search) for free, without you having to pay to have it show up as a sponsored listing (paid search). Your article can sit there passively forevermore, hopefully picking up clicks from Google, from people searching for your kind of thing.

What are the downsides?

Well, mainly it’s that you’ll need to invest some time. You’ll need to write blog posts regularly. But, it can be whatever’s practical. Once a month is fine. Once a quarter wouldn’t be terrible. Gently gently you’ll build up a nice body of related and engaging content.

And writing a strong blog post is not simple. There’s a lot you can do to make it more interesting, appeal to Google, and in general optimise its marketing impact. Here’s my article with some things to think about before you set up a blog. I’ll be writing soon about how to write good blog post titles, and how to actually write a great post.

But, if you’ve got any appetite at all for writing, I can coach you through that process, suggesting good titles, tweaking your work, giving you hints and tips at a manageable pace, and generally refining your blog into something that really supports your business.

(See, this article itself, while I’ve mainly written it so I can stop explaining all this to each new client from scratch, and just send them a link to this instead, is also a piece of content marketing in itself. As well as explaining something to you that’s hopefully useful, I’ve also slipped in a little explanation of why my services might be useful to you. Marketing, yes, but not blatant advertising.)

But I should also flag up that there’s nothing worse than a blog with a couple of elderly poor quality posts in it. If you know you’re just not going to blog, then don’t! Rubbish blogging is likely to be worse for your business than no blogging at all. Content marketing only works if the content is good and reflects well on your business.

Ganbatte kudasai

So hopefully I’ve answered the question, what is content marketing.  And gone a bit further and persuaded you it’s a good idea for your business.  So now, as the Japanese say, ganbatte kudasai. Please be perseverant. Do have a bash.

There’s a good chance that you have a good blog in you, just waiting to get out. Your business is bound to be full of interesting things to talk about, and your passion for your subject matter is likely to be contagious.

This is the foundation of content marketing. Once you’ve written an engaging article, the magic of the internet, Google and social media, will allow you to reach out, across the globe, to people who might find your subject matter interesting. Then, who knows, they might be inspired to buy your stuff. Hurrah.

And if you’d like some help, just get in touch.

Image: Pixabay

About Jessica Kennedy

Authored by Jessica Kennedy, the Marketing Chihuahua. Jessica writes text for the websites of small businesses and charities, and provides coaching in blogging and social media. She really enjoys helping people and organisations express themselves fluently online, in painless and practical ways.