About Matthew Barby
Matthew Barby is a digital marketing consultant and the Digital and Content Strategist at Wyatt International. Matt is also a lecturer for the Digital Marketing Institute and specialises in content marketing campaigns with a focus on acquiring top-tier links.
In his Learn Inbound talk, he takes a look at how SMEs can build out a content marketing strategy that reaches their target audience and delivers results without spending hundreds of thousands of pounds.
- Building a content team will allow you to tap into a diverse set of skills and knowledge, access the social channels and audience of each team member, and accelerrate credibility through the team’s authority.
- When developing a content strategy, you need to conduct a full audit of your competitors, benchmark your own presence against them, and analyse the top performing content within your industry.
- Competitor analysis should include: web traffic/search traffic, backlinks/mentions, social media following, content volume/frequency, and top performing content.
- Measure the success of content campaigns by monitoring the social shares on content and online reach. Also, track brand mentions and link acquisition, as well as web traffic and content engagement.
So, what I'm going to kind of talk to you through is a general process that I've kind of taken, and it's really made up of four key parts. I'll go into these individual components in more details, and what I'll do is I'll talk you through some of the different tools I use, some of the different results that I've had across many different campaign-to-clients that are all the way from local businesses, all the way through to FTSE 100 companies as well.
So, the first stage, and probably one of the most important stages, really, is defining the actual objectives of your content marketing campaign, what you actually want to achieve. Once you've actually found and defined your objectives, the next stage is really developing a content marketing strategy. This is the bible of your campaign. This is something that you go into great, great detail around. It can be shared across the whole business, and, essentially, all of your objectives, the way that they're going to be achieved is going to be put through in this strategy.
The third part is by building out a content delivery team. And then, the final stage, of course, is actually measuring the success of all of this.
So, the first stage is setting objectives. Content marketing is likely to have much more of an indirect impact upon your business, as direct impact as it has. So, you've got things like lead generation being, typically, one of the main things that most SMEs in particular would want to gather from content marketing. This may not come directly through someone visiting your site, and reading a blog post, and then going, "Okay, now I want to buy from these guys." There may be a gestation period of nine months, and it may actually be the content had a knock-on effect to your search engine visibility. Brand identity; shifting the way that you want your brand to be actually seen. Are you going to be developing out the thought leadership pieces to change the whole identify of your brand? There's going to need to be a substantial amount of PR, content marketing done around that in general.
Data collection is another huge part of content marketing from an objective point of view that's really quantifiable. If you want to gather more data, more insights on your customers, potential customers, or your target market as a whole, and, on the most basic level, when we're kind of looking really here, the top of the funnel, just generating more traffic coming into the site.
So, there are a lot of things that content marketing can achieve. That was by no means an exhaustive list, but the main thing to take away, really, is that content sits in the middle of everything. And you shouldn't just view content marketing as doing a few blogs each week because the reality is that you don't need to even be doing blogs to be getting involved in content marketing. Just simply doing some offline print advertising and traditional marketing is still part of content marketing, and it still works for a lot of businesses. Email marketing, display advertising, content plugs into all of these, and the reality is that what you start to get with each of these individual channels is lots of different measurements, metrics, should I say, that you can measure the success of each of these individual component pieces of content. So, once you've kind of got to the stage where you've sat down, you've said, "Right, what actually is it that we want to achieve from our content marketing campaign?" Maybe it's that you want to increase brand awareness by, let's just pluck out some things, 60%. Maybe a way that you're going to do that is by looking at search volumes for brand-related keywords from the search engines. More people are searching for us, more people recognize our brand, and therefore, brand awareness has grown over a period of time. The important point is that the quantity of metrics next to each of your objectives. And then it allows you to start formulating a strategy that's all focused around actually achieving those metrics and objectives, should I say.
So, the content strategy, what I was talking about before, is really...this is probably the most important part of one- off bit of work that you'll do within your content marketing campaign that then can be refreshed over a period of time. I wrote content strategy documents that go into hundreds of pages before. I mean, I say, "I have," along with the rest of my team. Completely taking credit for everything there.
So, the way that we'll usually map out a content strategy is kind of half research and half practical applications for actually going into more detail into specific themes, topics, and actual ideas to go within this.
The first stage that I always do within this part is to do a full audit of your competitors and yourself, so that you can completely benchmark exactly where you are in the market, at this point in time, compared to the rest of your competition. This process can even be done before then. If you're going to start setting objectives for a campaign, you probably need to know where you're actually at in the marketplace as a whole. And then, looking a bit further out of that, is analyzing what kind of content's going on within your industry. This doesn't need to be through direct competition, but it may be content from publications, other companies that indirectly target your target market. And then, you go onto the stage of developing specific content ideas, themes that form the basis of the content strategy, which I’ll come on to.
So, this is typically the steps that I take, some of the tools that I use for the competitor research stage of developing a content strategy. Some of these tools I'll kind of mention are pay-for tools, and some of them are free tools. And I'll start with looking at all of the web traffic and search traffic that all of your competitors bring, and this gives you a good idea of how much traffic that content, as a whole, is generating. So you can use things like SimilarWeb, which gives you a fairly good estimate of overall web traffic, SEMrush, which will then go in and tell you another very good estimate of total search traffic coming through to your competitor's websites, and Quantcast, again, very similar to SimilarWeb. So, you kind of get a good idea of where people are at in terms of the traffic they're bringing through to their website.
The next, you can kind of look at links coming through and mentions. Now, one of the things I would say here is don't just start looking at this saying, "Okay, well, one competitor has 100,000 links pointing to their website, and one competitor has 2,000 links pointing to their website, so 100,000 links must be so much better." Go into a bit more qualitative detail. So get the top level figures, and then start saying, "Right, what kinds of websites, what kinds of features are they getting?" One of my competitors, just getting from a load of kind of, like, spam blogs, and they're not really that great editorial features. Is it really a result of that content marketing developing organic mentions, or is it just a bit more manufactured from their side? Or are they getting featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, and are they getting all these great, amazing comments coming through onto their content? That's more of a better indication to go a bit...a step deeper into understanding where your competitors are at.
Take a little top level look at their social media following, how many followers, and all that kind of statistics on the top level, and start to see how much engagement they get. A really good tool that I often use for the social media following as well is having a look through the likes of Sprout Social. I don't know if any of you guys have used that before, but they give a really good competitive comparison of, actually, the percentage of users that will actually engage with the brand, as opposed to just the number of followers they have.
Then, you can have a look at the amount of volume and the frequency of content that's been posted out on, maybe, their blog, or this could be like FAQ areas, or places that are regularly updated. Download as much of that information into spreadsheets as possible because, then, once you've got all the information, you can start having a look and seeing what's worked. You can use tools like Topsy to go and have a little look, or BuzzSumo, as mentioned, to see how many social shares a lot of their content's getting, what's the top-performing content, because these guys are going to be targeting the same people as you. You can take a lot of lessons out of what's worked, what hasn't worked from their content.
And again, kind of just having a look at any other online mentions. Set up Google Alerts if you're looking to do it free. Mention.com, a pretty good free service as well that you can go in and start having a look and see where your competitors are being mentioned. Moz, with their fresh web explorer. Essentially, this is a huge data-gathering operation. Don't expect for this to kind of be a couple of hours job, just scoping through. This is going to take a long time, and this is really the most important bit of data analysis that you're going to do because it's going to form the large basis of your whole content strategy.
BuzzSumo is a tool that I love. People often actually ask me if BuzzSumo pay me to actually mention their brand a lot, which I don't. I just constantly talk about these people because, from a content marketing point of view, being able to just go in and analyze something as simple as typing in your competitor's domain, you'll be able to see all the content very quickly, without having any technical knowledge, that's performed really well.
Similarly, what I talked about with SimilarWeb, you can go in and just type in any website. You don't need Google Analytics access, and they'll give you a rough estimate. I mean, don't take these as completely the be-all and end-all metrics, but they'll give you a rough estimate of what web traffic's looking like.
And then, you go in and do the exact same process for your own presence. Now, the nice thing about auditing yourself is you have a lot more information available. Most of you should have Google Analytics installed. Those of you who don't, go home tonight and get that installed on your website. Have a look at how many search queries are coming through within Webmaster Tools so you can get an idea of, actually, how many people are searching for your brand, as well as your content. It gives you kind of an idea of search engine visibility. Have a look at where you're getting mentioned, where you're getting back linked, so you can have a bit of analysis, even if you've never knowingly done content marketing with the purpose of a set campaign before, there may be a case to find things that have worked almost by accident or as a result of the other campaigns that you're doing.
When you've got all of this information and you start kind of realizing that you've got a hundred pieces of paper on your desk, and you have absolutely no idea how to even begin looking at all of it, now's the time to start kind of whittling it all down, getting things in spreadsheets. Start looking at how you can actually use this information to start formulating specific ideas.
One of the ways that I often have a little look at ways where people are actually talking about specific topics when we're coming up with ideas is I'll usually take the top-performing kind of articles that I've gathered from BuzzSumo, from all my competitor research, and I'll gather them all together and I'll use a tool called TagCrowd. And it, essentially, allows you to make kind of, like, just quick word clouds, and it'll just highlight out some of the most frequently seen phrases within all of those blog titles. And you can, essentially, across most industries, even industries where there's not a lot of online activity going, you can do the same thing with print advertising. I mean, just with myself, I'd probably say about 95% of the clients that I work with are generally B2B, and, of them, probably about 70% are fairly industrial clients. I mean, we're talking running content marketing campaigns for companies that make valves that sit inside other valves. It's not selling an iPhone. So, use offline magazines, print material, all the kind of things that, as a digital marketer, you kind of engrained in you to think that they're a bit crap because they're very useful. And, in some cases, customers do use these and read these.
All of this information at the top here is used to circle down and create your content itself, and I'll come back to this diagram because what we've talked about, really, is just the top part here. The reality is that great content alone... You could get all of your research right, you could, essentially, develop how some of these amazing ideas that have came from your research, and you've created this perfect piece of content, the reality is that great content alone is not enough. I've learned that first-hand. And promotion, being able to go out and get to your audience, is just as difficult, if not much more difficult, than having great content in the first place.
And there are tons of different types of content, and one of the things that I wanted to stress here is another kind of pet hate of mine. I have quite a lot of pet hates. Sometimes, companies will say to me, right, "Matt, I've got..." This could be my old clients, new clients. "I've got a great idea for a new kind of piece of content. I want to get your ideas," and we'll sit down, and they'll go, "Right. We want to do a video series," or, "We want to do an infographic." I'll say, "Okay. That's not a content idea, that's a format of content," and a lot of people kind of get obsessed with the idea of the format of the content, the wrong end of the content creation process first, and it's very easy to do because you can see an amazing infographic. I remember, going back now probably about two years, when infographics were not as widely-adopted, and everybody made infographics because everybody loved it. And people can then start getting obsessed with the type of content they're doing before they even thought of the idea. The reality is, your content can take multiple forms. It can be a video, it can be an article, it could be an infographic. A contest could be embedded within to something that's then reshaped into a newsletter that, then, you record as a podcast. It can take multiple formats, but if the idea behind it is rubbish, if we are telling people in the content...it doesn't resonate with them, has no real kind of filling of their knowledge gap, then they don't care about what type of content it is.
But where the different types of content come in are at the last stage, and its understanding how and why your audience actually enjoys sharing and viewing these kinds of pieces of content. And a great way to understand this is looking back at the research that you've done, having a look at some of the most shared content, the most linked-to content, and then you'll kind of get an idea of the types of format that people within your target market, because every target market is going to be different, like to consume information, and then you can start working on it from there.
And these are just kind of a few examples of different pieces of content. I love this list. I went through a little of my bookmarks. Simple, little things can be really, really interesting. You don't need to go the length of, like, full videos, or web apps, or going through and creating interactive maps. It can be something as simple as a little checklist, a text-based article, and it can be a fantastic piece of content, but it's what your audience, the people that are consuming the content, wants. And this is how you build out that content.
So, once you've got to the stage where you've got all these ideas, you've done your research, you think you got a few ideas, and you get to the stage where you go, right, how the hell are we going to actually do this? I've just had an amazing idea, but I have no one. I can't produce this, my team can't produce this, and even if they could, to be honest, they probably don't have the time. This is where building out a content team can be incredibly powerful. And by this, I'm not talking about just kind of coming through and paying tons of money to an agency, for example, that's kind of going to, then, give you that PR team, I'm talking about partnering up with people within your industry that don't just write content, don't just create content, but, more importantly, they have the channels to actually distribute that content.
So, where I will kind of start building out a content team to deliver some content for the campaign, really, being able to write well and create the content is a secondary part for me. One of the first kind of processes that we take is we'll go through Twitter, we'll look through local communities, we'll go through and have a look at local publications offline, online, and see if we can get a huge list of people that we can start building in to create content for us. But the main metrics we'll look at is their social channels. We'll look at how much kind of credibility they have, their links with journalists, who else they write for. How can we, through the people that we use within the content creation process, benefit the content promotion process?
For example, if we get someone to create an article for us, are they then going to share it out to all of their social following? Do they have links to some bloggers? Do they have links to journalists that could then go and feature this? Those kinds of things, without the influence in the first place, are very difficult to achieve, and you can use tools like BuzzSumo, like Followerwonk. You can look through the simplest things, looking through Twitter, to see who's talking about the kind of topics you're talking about, and more often than not, the people that we will work with and spring into the team, we'll just drop through an email, and they won't even be necessarily freelance, out-and-out content writers.
And this is where you can kind of tap into a whole kind of diverse set of skills and knowledge, and you can just work on content by content basis production. You could have a content team of 50 different people, if you wanted, and you're just paying per piece, but what you've got in that pool of people is tons of different distribution routes to get, actually, going back to the objectives of your content marketing campaign, to actually achieve those.
And this is an example of what that can achieve. In a recent project that I started at the end of October and it was with a company called BuildFire, and BuildFire were a completely new company. They only kind of launched their website in August, I think, and they were going into an incredibly competitive marketplace. They pretty much had zero brand awareness, and they were looking to rank for some extremely competitive keywords. Their product, essentially, allows local businesses to go in and create their own mobile apps without any kind of technical knowledge.
Now, the guys at BuildFire wanted to build up their social presence. One of the big focuses was, to be honest, with SEO, but this purely being fueled through a content marketing campaign. But they didn't have hundreds of thousands of pounds to start spending with us because, the reality is, they were a new startup. What we did is we extracted tons of different people that were talking about the things that we wanted to be creating after we'd done the whole kind of process of creating a content strategy. Within three months, we'd kind of built out a team of around about 25 people, and what we tend to do is, by the time we get about 6, 7 months into a campaign, I'll have usually whittled down that list to about 10 people. If one piece of content doesn't work that great with someone, we may kind of, like, try working with them again. We may say, "Okay, let's try someone different." It's really easy to hop from one person to the next. You can incentivize writers who get the most social shares on blog content by giving them kind of an extra kind of percentage of cash at the end of the month, and it really just influences people to then go on and create and promote the content more than anything. What you've also got is you can email and send out to a lot of people that we're working with and say, "Right, yeah, we've just plugged this through to a local subreddit that's really relevant to a lot of our target market," or an online community here, "Can you guys go in and start help pushing that forward? Can you leave some comments, get the conversation going?"
And this is just kind of the first five blogs that we published on the blog from, essentially, a completely new website, and we got a ton of social shares. We're now at the top of page one, literally, after three ones for the word "app promotion." I think we were like number two. We had app ideas that we started ranking pretty close to within two months on page one. And, as you can see, traffic went from about 1000 visits a month all the way up to kind of, when we checked in January, we were up to around about 35,000 a month. And within that time, since the end of October, had features, mainly through the networks that we'd built in our content delivery team, and also a credit to the content we created, across CNN, Moz, Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur, TechRadar, and we've built a kind of a snowball effect now of where you've kind of had great content being produced, and initially, you relied on the content team to kind of fuel this initial promotion of your business where you had none. Once the promotion starts going and you start picking up features here, you're able to build those relationships, instantly, yourself. So, then, the onus goes more into the actual content creation programs there because promotion becomes a lot easier, and that's when, if we go all the way back to this kind of diagram, then you kind of start making all of these areas in the promotion section a lot easier.
And what you're kind of doing is, everything has become very inbound, your content promotion team, your content delivery team are now promoting all of this. Your in-house team can start focusing on building kind of relationships with other bloggers and journalists, making better use of your time. You can start responding through listening to what's being talked about and responding in the communities that your content's being created, and start achieving some of these goals that you wanted to achieve at the very bottom in a much more direct way.
So, yeah, we had a fantastic result. And one of the best things was that, on the site, within this campaign, it's probably one of the best conversion rates I think I've ever seen on a campaign that I've worked on like this. And we actually had a conversion rate of 15% generated from...and this was new users coming in and using the service, directly from the content campaigns. We had huge engagement across Twitter, Facebook, visibility within search engines, and more importantly, had loads of relationships built with key industry influencers. The doors kept opening, and things become easier and easier. And you find that this kind of struggle that you usually have at the start that usually can take years to get to the point where you're starting to think about getting kind of features in places like this, starts to happen at the start when you need it most, and then, as you move on, things become a lot easier.
So, this comes onto, then, the final part of just measuring success. I think one of the most important parts of when you're reviewing your campaign, when you're kind of saying, "Right, okay, 3 months has gone by, 6 months have gone by, 9 months, 12 months, 2 years, how have we done on actually achieving our objectives?" And this is an important point as well if your objective isn't just to kind of think too far into the future. Yes, you kind of need to have more of a long-term goal. These goals may change over time depending on how things are going in the first few months, but one of the easiest ways to start kind of really focusing in on how well your content marketing campaigns performed is by understanding what the true value of a website visitor is.
This can be difficult for some businesses; it can be pretty easy for others. If you're a SaaS business, like BuildFire, for example, it's fairly easy because we can just calculate the conversion rates, the average order values online, the customer lifetime value, and then what we say is, "Right, whichever of these channels is bringing through a better conversion rate, we can work out that as a split of the average order value."
Other times, it can be a bit more cloudy when you're measuring kind of, like, offline lead generation, but as close estimate as you can get to understanding what the value of a single web visitor is, the better understanding in the long-term you'll get of the impact of your content because the likelihood is, someone isn't going to just convert instantly into a customer after reading one piece of content from you. They need to be kind of nurtured through the conversion funnel, brought further down until they're at the point where, if they want to make a sale or they want to kind of have a partnership with yourself.
Simple things like monitoring social shares on content and finding out your online reach, brand awareness, like when I was talking about monitoring through the number of branded searches, so how many people are actually searching for your brand name or things related to your products or brands within the search engines? It's a good judge of, over time, how well people are actually recognizing your brand.
Obviously, the number of mentions and acquisition of new back links to your website is a great way to actually measure success. Web traffic, content engagement, and then online and offline conversions, of course.
And this is actually a dashboard that we used for BuildFire, and I'd really recommend using dashboards to display metrics. This is actually using a program called Cyfe, and I think we pay something like $19 a month, and it just pulls in data from all kinds of places. And it's probably one of the biggest improvements I found for displaying lots of data, especially from an agency side or a consultant side, to clients, giving them a quick top level overview of everything, and then you can go and draw down into more information. But there are tons of dashboard solutions out there that you can just link up pretty much to every single free service, Twitter APIs, things like that, and they're really useful.
So, just coming back to remember that the process that I talked about at the start, and just reiterating the four key points I was talking about, starting with defining your objectives. From here, going through, having a good understanding, researching your competitors, your current position, building out this strategy. Then actually building out this content delivery team, this creation and promotion, and then, ultimately, measuring the success and taking findings, and then kind of re-going through this process at each point in your campaign.
And I've just put together a few kinds of bits of extra reading. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, technology hasn't failed me; I'll have tweeted out the slide deck for this, so you'll be able to get everything that you want to do. And, don't ask me questions, apparently. So, just to confuse you all, and if you guys want to get in touch with me with any questions afterwards, then feel free to get in touch, and I'll be around all this evening to have a bit of a chat with you all. So, thanks.