While everyone's definition of content marketing is a little different, the execution side of this marketing channel has much more definitive best practices. Whether you are new to content marketing or just looking for validation that your program is running smoothly, here are some of the most important (and often overlooked) DOs and DON'Ts of content marketing.
Market Research Best PracticesDO: Create a road map with specific deadlines and deliverables. I would argue that content marketing is almost more about managing expectations than anything else in the beginning. When you're first getting started, it can be easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of market research and drag out the process — which inevitably always pisses upper management off. To ensure everyone is on the same page before beginning, create a road map outlining exactly what you will do and how you will do it. Deadlines also ensure focus and encourage everyone to stay on task. This is especially important if you had to convince your boss to even consider content marketing in the first place.
DON'T: Try to speed through this phase because of pressure by management. Forget to manage expectations? Chances are you are already getting pressured to speed up. Or, you might even still be in the convincing stages and feeling the pressure to deliver in a few weeks. Market research takes a lot of work and cannot be rushed. Especially during the persona development phase, you'll likely be interviewing customers and coordinating a ton of different schedules (typically during working hours!), which can slow the process down. There is no way you can rush this without looking like an overbearing quack.
DO: Get creative during persona development. There are a ton of data gold mines out there that can lend a helping hand to persona development. Some include:
- Customer surveys
- Customer interviews and focus groups
- Customer service department interviews
- External market research reports
- Blogger interviews and reader surveys
- Brand affinity research
- Mechanical Turk surveys
- Live help chat logs
- Big data and other analytics
DON'T: Half-ass research and tell your boss it is "complete". Overhead pressure causes many to panic and haphazardly throw together a deliverable. This research will lay the foundation of your forthcoming strategy — a strategy that could end up significantly improving overall sales. Do you really want to chance the success of your whole content marketing division on something so early on like market research? Take the time now and you will have the necessary building blocks for sound strategy development. Remember, front loading the work creates an efficiency flywheel for the future.
DO: Ensure statistical significance and sound research methodology. Not all surveys are created equally. Similarly, you need to equate for statistical variation in any data you collect. Ignore this step and you could be basing your strategy on false or skewed information.
DON'T: Ship something without BETA testing and/or review. Whenever market research deliverables are user-facing (like surveys or interviews), never send anything to a big group of them without testing it on a few users. This BETA test can ensure you don't blow your chances of data collection because there was a reporting error, or something didn't make sense to most users.
DO: Conduct a technical audit. If you're reading this blog, chances are the majority of your content will be hosted on your website. You need to ensure your website is technically sound and optimized before adding content. This will make sure you don't have to go back and fix things later on, and worse lose any search equity because of a missed 301 or duplicate content. It's best to lay the foundation for easily adding content sooner rather than later.
DON'T: Skip the content audit. I'll be frank: A content gap analysis is not fun. You're sifting through tons of pages and evaluating them both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, doing this analysis can give your content marketing initiatives much-needed direction. You can determine areas for improvement and know exactly where you are missing opportunities. Plus, this can oftentimes highlight technical issues you might have missed during the technical audit.
Processes and Governance Best PracticesDO: Look to traditional publishing organizational charts for inspiration. Newspapers and magazines have been producing content for a long time. Look to them for inspiration on how to organize your content-producing workflow to ensure there are clear roles and responsibilities. Too many chefs in the kitchen can bog down the process. Similarly, an unclear process can result in confusion and internal conflict.
DON'T: Start creating content until all teams are on the same page. Too often content production is siloed and hoarded among each team. There shouldn't be multiple teams in your organization producing content on their own. The best process would be for all content to go through one process to ensure continuity and a consistent user experience. Having these discussions internally, especially early on, will ensure that the content on your site doesn't get messy.
DO: Know your company's "legal style". The internet is a cesspool of plagiarism and copyright infringement. This leaves many opportunities for a marketer to unknowingly break the law. However, every company takes a different approach to risk adversity. Some are more lax, with a "policy" of just linking to the original source. Others don't even want you linking out to external websites. Knowing your company's stance will ensure you don't run into roadblocks with compliance, or cause internal conflict during editorial review.
DON'T: Risk a lawsuit. Besides knowing your company's legal style, common sense goes a long way when it comes to avoiding legal woes. While there are many ways a marketer can break the law unknowingly, reading up and incorporating a clear-cut policy among your content producers should help you avoid legal trouble down the road.
Editorial and Execution Best PracticesDO: Create editorial standards. Clearly defined writer guidelines is necessary to ensure consistency in voice and structure across your content. A written document ensures there are no "I-didn't-know" moments among your team. Also, it allows for scalability in training, and saves your content marketing program if a new manager takes over.
DON'T: Have different standards across different teams. Remember, you are aiming for consistency in your content. Different teams working off different guidelines (or some not using them at all!) can truly affect how visitors perceive your content.
DO: Get creative with content formats and topics. Content is exciting! It can take many forms and doesn't need to be just long-form essays. Play around with formatting (within the bounds of your editorial guidelines), medias, styles, and so forth. Just because you have editorial standards doesn't mean you can't make a few videos one month and an interactive tool the next.
DON'T: Go rogue and forget your personas, keywords, and funnel. Don't let creativity derail you from your mission — to create content that will drive revenue. If you start forgetting about personas, not targeting keywords, or forget to map your content production efforts to the funnel, you could turn your content marketing program into a hobby rather than a business function.
Analysis Best PracticesDO: Clearly define goals before any content is produced. Why would you create content as a business without knowing why? Defining goals and ensuring they are measurable is the first step to any content marketing program. And really, the overarching goal should always be to make money. Oftentimes there are stepping stones to getting there, such as by generating leads or even just building traffic to your website, but knowing this end goal, clearly defining how you will determine if it's achieved, and identifying secondary goals needed to reach it will ensure your content always serves a business purpose.
DON'T: Forget to identify goals for each piece of content produce. Ideally, your editorial calendar will have a column that says "goals" to ensure that every piece of content created is targeting a business goal. These goals can be anything from "improve rankings for X term" to "earn 40 new Pinterest followers". The key is to ensure all your content producers are thinking of the bigger picture and laser focused on improving your business.
DO: Use current performance as a benchmark for future comparison. How can you measure improvement if you don't know how you are currently performing? Mine your analytics and pinpoint metrics for benchmarking. This will help you determine the value and ROI of your content marketing initiatives.
DON'T: Forget to ensure all goals can be tracked and measured. Ensure any tracking mechanisms are in place before launching content so you can measure it's success when the campaign is over. For example, if you want to measure direct conversions off a piece of content, ensure your analytics can fulfill that need.
DO: Conduct a regular content inventory. This is part conducting another content gap analysis for all new content, but also part taking this time as an opportunity to draw insights from past content performance. For example, while evaluating the last six months of content, you may discover that your audience really responds to video, but don't tend to engage much with list posts. These kind of insights can be valuable to future content development.
DON'T: Forget content marketing is for more than just lead generation. As search marketers, we tend to be laser focused on lead generation and bringing in new business. However, there is a lot of opportunity in repeat business, and content marketing can be used to build community and customer retention. Focusing your content marketing strategy on that "stay" portion of the conversion funnel is totally acceptable, and may result in more consistent business than new customers.
TakeawayClearly defining how your company views content marketing as a philosophy is only part of the battle. When it gets time to execution, best practices are what will ensure your content marketing outputs are leveraged to their full potential.
What do you think? Are there any points above you agree or disagree with? Any I missed? Would love to hear from you in the comments!