Although I’m more than guilty of engaging in my fair share of debates on marketing theory, I do, in fact, relish practical application. So when I’m searching for marketing takeaways that I can put into action, I turn to brands that actually know what they’re doing (and have the proof to show for it). From whom else would you seek advice on success than those who’ve already achieved it?
I’m a skeptic, so I need evidence or else I’m not buying it. And I’ve seen plenty of content marketing “case studies” floating around out there that are pretty thin in the evidence department. So I took it upon myself to interview three brands that experienced remarkable success with content marketing and pulled out the major lessons we can all glean from these real life examples.
But before we jump in, I have to be honest that this post is just as much for me as it is for those of you who are reading it. Content marketing can be a tough nut to crack. I’ve faced several challenges in my own content marketing efforts, so I’m just as eager to start putting the lessons below into practice.
Go All or Nothing
There have never been more ways to market a business than now, so it’s wise to thoroughly research your options and uncover the marketing strategies that stand to offer the best results for your business. But once you learn which methods hold the most promise, pursue them exclusively. Don’t spread yourself thin by continuing to invest in marketing efforts that don’t pass muster.
Abandon the illusion that a diversified marketing strategy achieves some sort of “blanket effect” that’s greater than the sum of the parts. When you cast your net, opt for targeted and deep rather than wide and shallow; you’ll catch more fish.
But don’t just take it from me. For years, Capterra, a business software matchmaking service, failed to see any significant results from its content marketing efforts. The problem was that Capterra was content (pun intended) with having a superficial relationship with content marketing. But eventually Capterra realized that it would only see returns once it “got serious about content marketing.”
Here’s what Capterra did:
- Hired full-time employees to create a content marketing team
- Held staff to a weekly content production schedule (11 pieces of content published each week!)
- Established a consistent distribution strategy through social channels (Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn)
- Expanded beyond standard blog posts with new types of content assets (infographics, original research, eBooks, and guides)
Here’s what Capterra got:
But Capterra’s content did so much more than just drive traffic to the blog. The backlinks, social shares, and keyword-rich content lifted Capterra’s domain authority. Capterra significantly improved its rank for competitive keywords in Google, which brought a huge surge of new visitors to the site. And we’re not just talking about blog readers; we’re talking about qualified leads that have a real impact on the sales funnel and bottom-line. Have a look-see.
As an added benefit, Capterra’s email subscribers list grew from a few hundred to several thousand in a matter of months! Needless to say, Capterra has an incredible opportunity to regularly connect with these new leads and nurture those relationships into customers. A job well done, wouldn’t you agree?
Now, I need to make notice of two important points.
First, Capterra spent three years working deep in the trenches before staking a claim to these kinds of results. Content marketing is about the long game; overnight success stories just don’t exist. Rand Fishkin of Moz delves deeper into this reality in a really great Whiteboard Friday:
Second, investing in content marketing means putting your fate in the hands of Google (at least partially). The big bump in Capterra’s traffic not so coincidentally starts in May 2014 when Google rolled out its Panda 4.0 algorithm update. That’s why it looks like Capterra’s efforts “suddenly” started working.
Since Google doesn’t refresh and update its algorithm as often as you publish content, increases in traffic can come in the form of delayed spikes rather than a gradual progression in real time. So keep in mind that your content won’t show up in Google until the search engine’s algorithm recognizes it. Live by Google, die by Google.
Get in Front of Your Audience
All content marketing initiatives should include a distribution strategy. In fact, effective content promotion is arguably more important than the content itself. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. And it doesn’t matter how amazing your content is if you don’t have anyone to consume it.
So, deciding how to spread the word is what will ultimately make or break your success with content marketing. Moviepilot, an online platform for movie fans to stay abreast of and discuss upcoming films, is intimately aware of the power in choosing the right distribution strategy.
When Moviepilot launched in 2011, the startup recognized that its ideal audience had a strong presence on Facebook. Zuckerberg’s social network had done a lot of the heavy lifting by offering a central space for the most avid film fans to rally around their shared passion, but no one offered these fans the content they craved. Moviepilot filled that void.
Moviepilot leveraged the information available on Facebook to segment users and target them specifically based on demographics and interests. As a result, Moviepilot created 12 unique Facebook pages that publish relevant content specific to each audience.
The unique content sparked tons of conversations amongst its fans on Facebook and its users online. Community Director Aaron Kelly explains how Moviepilot saw this high level engagement as another distribution opportunity:
We saw a huge potential in the conversation that was happening in those comments, so we reached out to our most active community to ask them if they’d be interested in writing up their opinions into articles. It’s snowballed into hundreds of articles published every week, coming from some of the most passionate movie and entertainment fans on the web. It’s been amazing to watch.
Crowdsourcing contributors allows Moviepilot to pump out massive amounts of content on a regular basis. But even better than the quantity is the quality. Who has more opinions on the latest happenings in the movie industry than the fans themselves? And what better way to gain access to untapped audiences than through these content contributors who promote their work to their respective circles? Fans turn into contributors, contributors turn into brand advocates, and brand advocates turn into promoters.
In the span of 3 years, Moviepilot’s distribution strategy has paid huge dividends. The movie platform has garnered 27 million Facebook fans across its 12 branded Facebook pages, and the website recently passed 50 million visits in a single month. 90% of website traffic comes directly from Facebook.
Find out where your audience consumes content and feed them!
Knowing where your audience consumes content is only half the battle; you also have to discover what content they want to consume. Your audience has questions to be answered, problems to be solved, and challenges to overcome. It’s the brand’s responsibility to identify those struggles and create content that offers actionable solutions. Grasshopper, a virtual phone system provider, does this really well and owes much of its success to a deep understanding of consumers’ content needs.
About a year and a half ago, Grasshopper had its own “get serious” moment with content marketing and decided to re-launch a fully customized new blog, hire employees solely for content marketing, and set up a weekly production schedule (sound familiar?). But before Grasshopper produced even a word of new content, it surveyed its customers to find out what kind of help they needed most.
This invaluable feedback consequently shaped the new theme of Grasshopper’s blog: Marketing Insights for Entrepreneurs. And to ensure Grasshopper stays on topic, it even adopted its own mantra to use as a gut-check when producing content, “Are we being entrepreneurially generous?” Only content that personally caters to small businesses, includes real-world examples, and offers clear calls to action makes the cut.
Since its pledge to make content marketing a priority, Grasshopper has seen some huge growth in traffic and social shares:
- 4% increase in organic blog traffic since last year
- 53% increase in referral traffic to blog since last year
- 937% increase in Twitter referral traffic to blog since last year (no, that’s not a typo)
- 1,433% increase in LinkedIn referral traffic to blog since last year (and neither is that one)
And if you’re curious how the increase in blog traffic and social shares has impacted website traffic, here you go:
Grasshopper takes a round-a-bout approach to realizing a return on investment from its content marketing endeavors. In fact, lead generation isn’t even one of Grasshopper’s explicit goals. Emma Siemasko, Content Marketing Specialist at Grasshopper, explains:
The goal isn’t to bring in leads; the goal is to build a community and be a resource for customers. The number one reason Grasshopper customers cancel is because they go out of business.
Grasshopper wants small businesses to succeed and wants to help its customers stay in business. No strings attached. That’s why the virtual phone system company refuses to gate any of its resources. The more it can help entrepreneurs, the better.
Also, while Grasshopper’s content doesn’t directly bring in leads through gated sign-up forms or email marketing, it does generate leads indirectly through link building and SEO. As the content garners more backlinks and social shares, Grasshopper moves up in search results, gets more traffic, and increases brand awareness. So, Grasshopper’s content marketing not only helps increase the lifetime value of its current customers, but it also brings in new traffic that may convert into customers.
Organic search and word of mouth are Grasshopper’s top two acquisition channels and an effective content marketing strategy is largely to thank.