Whether you’re starting out as a content marketer or have years of experience under your belt, each year brings new challenges. But each challenge also brings valuable insights. By the end of 2017, content marketers everywhere have learned key lessons that will guide their content strategies for 2018. To wrap up for this year and prepare for next year, we talked to 10 experts to share their insights and best practices for content marketing strategy with you.
1. Podcast is an important medium for content marketing strategy
“Much has been made of the podcasting trend in 2017, and listener stats are up across the board. According to this report, 50% of all homes in the U.S. are podcast fans, and 112 million people (40% of the U.S. population) have enjoyed a podcast (up from 36% last year). Sixty-seven million people listen to podcasts at least every month, and 42 million listen to podcasts weekly.
Flipboard has excelled at the presentation of high-quality articles, and we are building up our video experience, but we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to podcasts on our platform. So not only are we planning to build out our podcast offering in 2018 but also hope to launch a podcast ourselves and turn some of the content we create—such as Josh Quittner’s weekly tech reader—into an aural experience that you can enjoy while driving or cooking, for example.
Turning written work into a narrated version is a way to extend the reach of a piece of content and meet people wherever they are.”
2. Dig into data to drive content strategy decisions
“Let the data guide your content strategy. Hypotheses are fine, but if you look at the data you may find that much of what you thought your target audience would read or what you thought would work actually doesn’t.
I use our Funnel Report, and segment traffic by blog post category. That gives me a general idea of which segments move through the funnel. It’s a good high-level analysis. I also dig down by using the person details report to see which posts people viewed before they signed up. I put it in a spreadsheet, and overtime as I get more data in, I naturally find patterns in the data. After I got enough data it becomes pretty obvious.
I’m also getting better at recognizing low-quality content early on in the editing process and cutting it off before I go too far down the rabbit hole. Too often, I’ve worked with a low-quality piece of content for weeks or months and it only marginally improves. I’ve found that it just isn’t worth my time to spend so much on one blog post. There are better things to be spending time on, like writing my own posts.”
3. Beware of market saturation
“This year, I learned how important it is to know your content landscape. Some topics are more saturated with content than others, and knowing that saturation level is an important first step in planning a strategy that will engage an audience. If an industry is full of top-notch content, we need to adapt by leaning into distribution and amplification tactics like content collaboration, or by publishing into the hard-to-reach spaces, such as in-depth research.
A saturated content market is already full of the easy-to-write, solo-authored blog posts. Producing more of them will not likely win audience attention. But, if your topic area is less saturated, with audience interest and very little content, the smarter move is to produce top-notch, helpful content and do it quickly.”
4. Learn to focus and categorize
“In 2017, I learned to focus the Vendasta content on a few key areas each month in order to create cohesion with our strategy and establish Vendasta as a thought leader in local marketing. We implemented a “topic-cluster” strategy that let us focus on one key aspect of digital marketing each month and knock out heavy-hitting, keyword-focused content that will pay off in SERP rank, traffic, and brand identity for Vendasta. By adopting this strategy, our company-wide voice and messaging have gained more clarity than ever, and we’ve been able to align various departments to grow and promote the Vendasta brand, and continue to help our partners become experts in local marketing.
One thing we learned with our 2017 strategy was that not every piece of content can be a high-ranking, top-of-the-SERP keyword winner. In 2018, we will begin categorizing our pieces of content in terms of their goals—shares, traffic, engagement, backlinks, and so on—and not have every piece be focused on hitting #1 on Google. So a big part of 2018 will be focused on finding that key balance between the types of content we produce to maximize our results—not only in generating leads, but also in growing the Vendasta brand, engaging with our user base, and becoming a recognized and trusted voice in the industry.”
5. Don’t put SEO on the back burner
“In 2017, I reallocated some of our marketing resources away from content creation to site-wide SEO improvements, including some technical/speed improvements and a big content audit and clean-up project. It really paid off! We saw 20% growth in organic traffic month over month this October. The lesson: If you’re a content marketer, don’t put SEO on the back burner, particularly if you’ve got a big site. We were overdue for that cleanup work, and getting it done has had clear benefits on our traffic to both new and older content.
In 2018 I want us to embrace video not just for content but in other areas, like product and customer marketing. So we’re taking the plunge and creating a permanent videostudio in one of our conference rooms. I hope you’ll see us doing lots more with this channel next year.”
6. Turn to Your Community
“The biggest tool for creating the content strategy is the community. Each month, I look at Twitter and Slack and ask the people I know what they’re interested in. From there, I collect a range of topics that are important to our audience, and WordPress as a whole, and divvy those up to the writers who have the most expertise in those areas. I also look ahead to big events, like a WordCamp or release and look at the best way to cover that from all angles.
This goes into how I allocate resources. I decide what I can write myself, and what I think would be better handled by a different writer. I’ll bring the topic to them and decide if it makes sense as a one-off article, series, or even a white paper. Then we set up deadlines and I add them to my editorial calendar.
From there, I publish the articles, then put them on Twitter and Facebook. If the content is evergreen and still useful for our readers, we continue to share [that content] throughout the next few months, and some get included in our weekly newsletter.
Something we’re excited to do more of is interviews with people around the WordPress community. There are so many stories to tell, and we’re excited to find them. We launched our Faces of WordPress campaign last year that compiles long-form profiles, but in the future, we’re excited to add new media [such as] photo and video content to make multimedia packages.”
7. Write What You Know
“My mantra as a content marketer has always been “less is more.”
I take a really thoughtful approach to content. The key lessons I’ve learned about content comes back to writing advice I got back in high school: write what you know. If you focus on writing content that you know well and serves the reader, it will be authentic and useful.
Don’t try to be everything to everyone and try to tick off all the boxes at once. Identify where your expertise lands and how it intersects with your company’s mission (this will help you come up with your core content themes) and know your audience. Write really thoughtful content that’s useful to your audience, first and foremost, and figure out how to get it out to as many people as possible (optimize for sharing and prioritize syndication, if you can). Once you start to get a sense of what’s working for you, invest in growing your resources (writers and tools), optimizing content you’ve already created, and uncovering new channels and distribution opportunities.
Some of the decisions I made in 2018 came from a need to prioritize. But hands down, one thing I would have done differently is investing in SEO resources sooner. I would have also loved to redesign our blog, but hopefully, I won’t have to wait too much longer to be able to do that 🙂 What I would like to do more of in 2018? Take more advantage of trending topics and adding our voice to current events, and trying out new types of content formats (infographics!).”
8. Work With Your Business Development Team
“This year, I began working directly with the business development team. This has been a very helpful way to get insight into different parts of the funnel. Typically, marketing and content are separate from sales in many organizations. I’d recommend any content team to break down the silos by setting up some type of integration with their sales or business development team, even if it means just one checkpoint meeting on a weekly basis. This communication is extremely important and in the end, can lead to a much higher ROI if the organization allows for change. It’s a great way to gain insights into what questions your target audience really is asking for at different parts of the buying process and allows the strategy to be much more targeted.
As a one-person marketing team, there certainly are challenges when it comes to prioritization and acknowledging limits. I can only do so much — when in reality, I wish I could do way more! I had the opportunity to delve into Google Analytics and PPC this year–which I enjoyed learning very much–and helped with website optimization. In the end, though, I decided to ask for outside help from a freelancer for this because I didn’t have the bandwidth (and the contractor I hired was much more experienced and thus could move more quickly). In retrospect, though I liked learning, I will probably be less reluctant to give up the reigns and ask for help in 2018.”
9. Establish and Maintain a Brand Voice
“There are two major lessons I’ve learned, or rather were reinforced, in 2017. First, establish and maintain a brand voice. This sounds like a simple no-brainer, but as you scale your content output it’s easy to get pulled in so many different directions that this can get lost. Even as your content strategy branches out, don’t lose sight of your original brand narrative—staying consistent with that story is paramount. Second, it really does take a village to build a well-oiled content machine. I have successfully worked with a number of fantastic freelancers in the past, but this model can also be a double-edged sword as you scale, especially in a highly regulated and precise industry like finance. I believe that it’s important to focus on quality over quantity, so building a team of people that you can trust to tell your brand’s story—circling back to my first point—is what will set you up for success.
Honestly, 2018 is going to be about sticking to the above. I can’t reinforce enough how strongly I believe in creating quality content. Producing for the sake of producing doesn’t help anyone, especially your audience. Rather than trying to hit them often, hit them with thoughtful content that actually resonates with their pain points, feelings, or whatever it is you’re trying to address. Playing a numbers game of x pieces of content that doesn’t actually do this will only exhaust both you and your audience, and you’ll likely lose them because of it.”
10. Talk to Your Customers and Use The Right Tools
“This past year, we’ve learned the value of talking to our customers. Our sales team puts us in touch with customers who we interview. We then re-purpose these interviews into stories for our blog. These stories can serve many different purposes by helping sales land future contracts, to telling the story of our how Branch Messenger is helping change the way hourly workers do their jobs. As the world increasingly rallies around stories about the great changes in the modern workplace, we want to do our best to be part of the story.
The other big learning has been finding the tools that help set us up for success — or, at the very least make our job easier. Scheduling our content with CoSchedule has been huge and we are also implementing other things like Trello to help manage our team. Whenever a story is published, we share it with the company in a unique content channel on Slack. We rarely email each other. Instead, we let the conversation dictate our work and let people get their stuff done without useless emailing.”
Supercharge Your 2018 Marketing Strategy
Whether you’re tweaking your content marketing strategy in 2018 or trying something new, take a page from the lessons that others have learned for inspiration. Content marketers and publishers are improving processes, talking to customers, segmenting their content, and using the right tools.
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