Content marketing took the digital world by storm but few 'Net professionals are able to determine how it actually differs from what they've been engaged in their entire career. The Web is also creating a new group of enterprising Web workers who know the value of content but aren't sure how to start.
What is needed for both groups is an in-depth look at what content marketing is (and isn't), the issues companies are facing when leveraging it, the tools available to increase productivity, production and promotion of said content and what to expect in this rapidly changing space.
The concept of providing consumers with branded messaging that puts their needs, wants and desires before the brand, is not new.
"While content has been a factor of marketing endeavors for quite some time, the term 'content marketing' hasn't really entered our vernacular until the last few years," said Karen Budell, chief content officer at Imagination, a custom content agency. "Content marketing is about providing informational and educational content designed to help solve a customer's or prospect's pain points, and distributing it in a way and in channels that meet a user's needs and preferences."
Companies clearly understand the importance of using branded marketing material to influence users and drive response across channels. According to the Content Marketing Institute, more than 85 percent of B2B and B2C brands use this tactic. Many, however, are flying blind. Digital marketing company iMakeNews, Inc. (IMN) reported in July 2013 that less than half of businesses have set formal content marketing strategies.
"Putting channel-specific strategies in place, having adequate resources to develop content that marketers will be proud of and utilizing basic program tools, such as editorial calendars, are key for marketers to work on as they fine-tune their content marketing programs," said IMN Editorial Director Craig Fitzgerald in a company statement.
The digital world is overflowing with offerings (e.g. software, tools, platforms, etc.) to help novice and pro content marketers stay productive and produce and promote content.
Creating content can be time intensive, from conducting research and interviews to writing (and rewriting), and editing. What's more, content can always be "better" - more informative, more clever, "tighter" - resulting in hours of, sometimes, unnecessary tweaking.
Managing Time - Available for Web, desktop or mobile, the Toggl time-tracking application lets users type in what they are working on and start a timer. When they are finished with that particular task (e.g. content research), they simply hit stop and start the next task (e.g. content production). Users can be as specific as they want to be, for instance, "Interview for Software Everywhere Column" or simply "Article Interview." Employees can see a daily breakdown to see how their time was spent. Similarly, freelancers can assign billing codes/rates and create invoices with Toggl's integration with FreshBooks.
Collaborating - Content creation is a team sport, which is why Yammer, a private social network acquired by Microsoft in mid-2012 is a viable option for content creation teams. It can help coworkers connect to each other, share information and organize projects to improve efficiency. Website Magazine editors use Yammer to alert each other when an article is ready for the other's review, when there are certain coverage areas to focus on, when there are changes to our style guide (a set of standards for editing) or an editor needs inspiration/help with a headline or topic.
Taking Notes - Inspiration can happen while watching the morning news or taking an evening stroll and it's important to "take note" when inspiration strikes. With Evernote, content marketers can create and edit notes, as well as record audio messages to store content ideas for future inspiration. They can also be synced across devices and integrated with If This Then That (IFTTT) to set "recipes," allowing Evernote to automate tasks (e.g. if a user saves an article, then it's automatically sent to a notebook in Evernote for future reference).
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Limited resources is a problem for many companies looking to produce content for acquisition and retention purposes, because they don't have the staff or the knowledge in-house to do what can seem like an overwhelming task - creating unique, thought- and action-provoking material. Luckily, there are myriad tools to help in the production process, many of which are free.
Researching - The Google Keyword Tool has been a mainstay in content development, as it allows writers to recognize good opportunity keywords that can be incorporated within content to maximize visibility. Google, however, is phasing out the external Keyword Tool in place of its new Keyword Planner, which is only accessible through an AdWords account. For alternatives, see Website Magazine's "Big List of FREE Keyword Tools" at wsm.co/keywordtools13.
Writing - A blank document can be a writer's best friend or his or her worst enemy, depending on how fast or slow their creative juices are flowing. An application like Prompts, can spark inspiration with its more than 1,000 starting lines and writing prompts. Or, if creating titles is a problem in your organization, the Web-based title maker from Portent Interactive can turn a drab headline such as "Content Marketing Tools" and make it share-worthy, "How Content Marketing Tools Make the Web a Better Place", "How to Build an Empire with Content Marketing Tools" or "What the World Would Be Like If Content Marketing Tools Didn't Exist".
Editing - Establishing an editing workflow so that at least two sets of discerning eyes are on each piece of content is an integral part of content development. In addition, companies should consider letting solutions such as InboundWriter be part of their editing processes. Users simply copy and paste a document into InboundWriter and add a few descriptive phrases. Then, InboundWriter scans the Web and analyzes hundreds of websites that contain relevant content about the topic. Marketers can edit and improve their content with InboundWriter's suggested terms and follow certain tips to improve their score (the value InboundWriter assigns to a document to determine how well it's optimized for readers, search engines and social media).
The production stage is generally where the bulk of a writer's time is spent, but a promotional strategy is equally important. After all, the only way content counts is if your target audience sees it.
Getting Coverage - When businesses develop thought-leadership material, including in-depth research papers with sharable statistics, media outlets may notice and repurpose the content. Press release wires cast a wide net. Check out 10 free press release distribution sites at wsm.co/prwires2012.
Recommending - Marketers can drive engagement and acquire traffic with Outbrain, which recommends their articles, mobile and video content on their sites and on premium publisher sites to expose it to highly engaged audiences.
Encouraging Discussion - Give a reader a comment section and someone is sure to leave their opinions (good or bad). Disqus and IntenseDebate are commenting systems, which provide website functionality to increase visitor engagement and encourage additional user-generated content on each post. Find out if Disqus or IntenseDebate is the better choice.
Managing Links - It may not seem daunting, but link management is a manual and often laborious task. LinkSmart can automate link management and help increase page views per visit and reduce bounce rate by driving readers to high-value content. For example, Website Magazine has many main coverage channels or areas. With LinkSmart, anytime mobile is mentioned, an in-content link automatically appears, linking that word to our Mobile channel, which has similar news and content.
In just the last year alone, content marketing has accelerated at a pace many enterprises are struggling to match. Budell, of Imagination, believes there is more to come.
"I think marketing automation tools will continue to increase our ability to personalize messages, making content more relevant and useful for the user," said Budell. "I see marketers relying on data even more to inform their decisions about content topics, type and distribution. I also see user-generated content becoming a bigger part of the story as there are rich insights to be mined from those comments and conversations, and that can inform not only future content opportunities but also things like product enhancements, line extensions and even branding."