What Content Marketing and Your Best Friend Have in Common

January 30, 2019

When we first met, Shannon was dating an old friend. Although I liked Shannon immediately, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with her for months. It took countless get togethers, glasses of wine, and finally sweating together at the gym until we both let down our guard.

It’s been years since Shannon and the friend that introduced us broke up, but we’re closer than ever. I’ve let many friendships fizzle over the years, but this one has stuck because of three things Shannon brings to the table.  

Shannon’s not only a great workout buddy and confidant, she’s also thoughtful, reliable, and committed. She always remembers that my husband hates mushrooms and that I love anything with fruit in it. She regularly reaches out. She has become a steady, invested presence, noticeably improving the quality of my life. Not surprisingly, it turns out Shannon has more friends than my husband and I have combined

The 3 characteristics of a successful content marketing strategy

The way Shannon approaches her friendships is the way you should approach your content marketing strategy. I’m not talking about taking your customers out for wine or motivating them to get to the gym (unless that conveniently aligns with your company’s mission), but you do need to be thoughtful, reliable, and committed. Adopt these three characteristics into your content marketing efforts and you will win people’s trust and their business.

Sounds pretty simple, right? That’s the beauty of content marketing. At its core, it’s refreshingly straightforward. Create thoughtful content on a reliable schedule and make a long-term commitment to engaging and nurturing your audience. Nail this framework and you’ll have more qualified leads than you know what to do with. 

Be thoughtful, reliable, and committed and you will win people’s trust and their business.

But here’s the thing. Like any strong relationship, growing your audience through content marketing takes time. Unlike a paid marketing campaign (like Google adwords) that can deliver results in a matter of days or weeks, it takes on average 3 months to 2 years for your hard work to pay off. (And unless you’re publishing around 4,000 words per week, give yourself more like 6 to 9 months to notice an uptick in traffic.) The thing is, even though you have to wait longer for the pay off, the results are better and longer lasting.

When you create free high-quality content that provides valuable information to your target audience, it will attract higher quality leads (right-fit clients, donors, or supporters) and website traffic you can count on. It can do all this without requiring you to continually sink money into paid advertising.

For these reasons, content marketing is worth the wait. It’s also worth taking the time to do it right.

Let’s look at how to put the three characteristics of a successful content marketing strategy into action:    

Thoughtfulness: Get to know your audience’s likes and dislikes

When you start the content creation process, approach it as you would a new friendship. This means taking the time to get to know your audience. You should already know their biggest pain points in relation to your product or service. But go a little further—before you create a piece of content, ask yourself, how much expertise does my audience have in this topic? This will help you determine how to speak to your audience in a way that resonates

How to make your readers feel at home

You want to avoid giving your readers a headache with overly complex language, but you also don’t want to bore or offend them with oversimplified explanations. Think about references and language your audience might appreciate. Are they pop culture fiends or more tuned in to national politics? Do they find swear words charming or off-putting? Figure out who you’re talking to and adjust your voice and content so you make them feel right at home.  

For example, let’s say you run an outdoor education company and you’d like to increase your registration numbers by 40% over the next two years. One way you plan to meet this goal is by publishing monthly articles to your website about how beneficial spending time in nature is for children.

Before you plan out your article topics, define who you’re writing for. Is your audience comprised of white collar parents living in affluent neighborhoods adjacent to green spaces? Or is your company based in a low-income urban area where families have very little access to nature? Obviously, each audience requires different subject matter to meet their needs and level of awareness. Let’s say your audience is in the latter camp. In this case, your articles probably shouldn’t prescribe daily play time in the forest. Instead, start small, offering fun, simple ways for parents to engage their children with nature by searching for spiders on a rose bush or just digging in the dirt.

Once you’ve determined who you’re writing for and how to meet their particular needs, you can create thoughtful content that resonates with your target audience. You can make them think differently or more deeply about a particular subject. If you really take the time to write exceptional content, it will add value to your reader’s life, leaving them in giddy anticipation of whatever you’re going to share next.   

When you thoughtfully tailor content to your target audience, your readers will feel like you’re writing or speaking just to them. This helps to establish trust and makes your content more enjoyable, enticing them to return to your website or subscribe to your newsletter for more.

Reliability: Publish content on a regular basis

After you’ve thoughtfully considered how to create content that’s beneficial to your audience, establish a publishing cadence and stick to it. If you’re new to creating content, or you have a small team and limited writing time, aim for just once or twice a month. Choose a date like the first and third Thursday of each month to hit publish.

When you’re consistent it signals to your readers that they can rely on you. It also signals to Google that it’s worth it to crawl your site on a regular basis which can improve your SEO.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how that works:  

What it means when Google crawls your website

Google is constantly ‘crawling’ the internet using software referred to as a spider, crawler, or simply, a bot. Its goal is to find the most relevant and up-to-date answers to people’s search queries so that Google is always providing you with the most useful information on the first page. So, crawling your site simply means that Google combs through your web pages and indexes any new content. It then ranks that content based on how accurately and comprehensively you cover the topic at hand. It’s like an enormous filing system in the cloud that keeps track of who has the most valuable information on every subject imaginable. If you’re posting high quality content on a regular, reliable schedule, your content will eventually start showing up on page one for relevant search queries.

If you’re posting high quality content on a regular, reliable schedule, your content will eventually start showing up on page one for relevant search queries.

Don’t make the mistake, however, of writing your content with only Google in mind. Keywords still matter, but the most important thing is to create content that is valuable to your audience. This will ensure that when the right people find your content, they will further explore your site, share your content with others, and eventually become loyal customers or supporters.

Read more about ranking in this article, Write for People, Not for Search Engines.

Commitment: Actively nurture and engage your audience

Of the three characteristics of a successful content marketing strategy, commitment should be the easiest. After all, you’ve already done all the hard work of getting to know your audience and creating content on a regular basis. All you have to do now is remain committed to showing up for your audience. And what does it mean to show up? It’s really pretty simple. Thoughtfully reply to comments on your blog, contribute to conversations on social media channels, and regularly reach out with your newsletter.

While in theory this is easy to accomplish, in practice it requires a significant amount of time and energy that many organizations aren’t willing to invest. That means, that if you do invest the time and energy you will stand out from the competition.

How to avoid losing readers (and friends)

This comes right back to the good friend analogy. Your good friends make the time to see you and reach out on a regular basis. These are the friendships that have lasted over the years, through thick and thin. And those friends that didn’t make the time? Well, eventually you stop calling because they never reciprocated or were never able to hang out. You may have loved spending time with them but at a certain point it no longer feels worth the effort to continue investing in a one-way relationship.

It’s the same with your business or organization. People may deeply resonate with your content but if you never reply to mentions on social or recognize the good work being done by those in your target audience, you might lose them to a competitor who puts in the extra effort.

Just think how good it makes you feel when an influencer on Twitter responds to your tweet. It sends a rush of dopamine to your brain, flooding your receptors with happiness. And of course you want more of this magical reward molecule, making you highly incentivized to share more of that person’s content as often as possible without sending stalker vibes. (It’s a fine line, my friend.)

Give your audience that welcome rush of dopamine and reply to their comments, like their posts, and, if applicable, leave your own comments on their blog. Your commitment will pay off in social shares and backlinks, improving your SEO and growing your audience

How a successful content marketing strategy will change your business

Once you’ve developed these three characteristics in your content marketing, your audience will grow, website traffic will increase, and your rankings should improve. Your business will change in other ways as well.

Your audience will come to rely on you, to look to you for advice and insight. You will have a never-ending influx of prospects and new email subscribers every week. In short, you will have a predictable and sustainable way to grow your business organically. And the icing on the cake? You’ll probably have a lot more friends too. 

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