Focus on the questions that customers ask and rely on your staff and existing marketing materials to get started.
If you listen to the latest buzz, having a social media presence is a must for companies to be successful in today’s marketplace. Social media does offer a great way to interact directly with your target audience, but it is not a successful business generator on its own. You have to add value through quality content development. Otherwise, your messages quickly become self-centered and self-serving and ultimately will leave viewers uninterested in what you have to say. When using social media tools alone to drive your company’s messages, it’s nearly impossible to determine the correlation between all the likes, tweets and shares you receive and how they translate to actual, concrete sales results.
The solution is content marketing, which is a way to share all of your valuable knowledge with prospects in a way that is compelling, seamless, and unobtrusive. It’s communicating to your target audience without pushing what you have to sell. The information you offer compels them to take some form of revenue-generating action with your business. You are pulling leads into your website, social media pages, and blog by attracting viewers with content that interests them.
Inbound marketing, or the customer pull-through method, generates higher-quality leads that are further down the sales funnel than those gained by outbound promotional tactics such as cold calling. By shifting away from “interruption” marketing tactics and focusing on topics people are interested in, companies are able to build a mutually beneficial relationship with their customers.
Developing Your Company’s Strategy
In 2011, Google received recognition for being the first company ever to receive 1 billion unique viewers each month. According to comScore, Google also generates more than 11 billion searches each month.
So how do you “get” Google, and, most importantly, a piece of the 61% of Internet users who research products online? Start by putting out great information they can find and use. This can be a daunting challenge, especially for contractors with limited time, staff and resources. But any business can implement an effective content strategy by following a few guidelines.
1. Create content people want:
When consumers are researching products or services, they typically have specific questions and are looking for answers. The trick to getting them to find you is figuring out what those questions are and developing content that answers them. Sounds like being a digital mind reader, right? Wrong! You already know the questions they are going to ask and have all the answers! Think about all of the emails, phone calls, and in-person questions you have gotten over the years. People are searching Google for someone like you to answer those questions.
Use your staff to identify which questions to base content on. They are experts on topics and questions customers are interested in learning about. Schedule an hour-long brainstorming session. Ask them to write down all the questions they have received from customers throughout the years. Be sure to include topics that could be uncomfortable to write about, such as costs. From that list, you should be able to create a couple dozen blog post topics. Blog posts don’t have to be overly complicated; the more straightforward and informational, the better.
The key piece of creating valuable content is to leave out any blatant self-promotion of your company, services or products. Nothing kills credibility more quickly than a blog post that disguises itself as information only to serve as a platform for the latest and greatest sale you are offering.
Your online audience understands
that you are a business and have something to sell. There is, however, a right way to infuse your content with your business offerings and still remain educational. You can use references to a specific service or product in instances where they are able to demonstrate or provide support for an explanation. For example, in a post about system maintenance, you can reference the advantages of service agreements and include a link to your website on the agreements you offer.
2. Keep it simple:
With any marketing plan, it’s important to identify what your objectives are before initiating the campaign. Your content objectives should support your overall business objectives. Produce content that contributes to advancing your overall company goals, i.e., sales growth, brand awareness, lead generation, or stellar customer service. The number of page views or comments a blog receives are irrelevant if what you are producing doesn’t contribute to your company’s growth strategy.
Once you have identified the type of content to create, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Focus on what you already have produced before you start creating from scratch. Look at your customer brochures, questions, and testimonials — as well as all your collateral materials — for content you can use in a different way. Repurposing existing content, such as a blog post into a quick e-book or guide, is a huge time and sanity saver while still accomplishing your goal of producing valuable information.
When you start to write, focus on telling your story, but remember that you aren’t writing the next New York Times best seller. People searching for your information aren’t looking for a novel. They want what they’re reading to be helpful, credible, and relevant to their search. If you are short on topic ideas, conduct your own Google search on industry-related topics, look at your competitors’ sites, browse through social media feeds to see what people are asking about, or call one of your more outspoken customers to get their input.
Use your staff to help you produce content. Empowering your staff by giving them the outlet to write about topics they are passionate about helps reduce the stress of the quantity of writing to be done and improves the overall quality of content being produced. Start enlisting those employees who are dedicated and happy about what they do. Chance are, they will be more than willing to contribute. Setting a small incentive each month for the most read blog post can encourage employee participation and ensures people are focusing on producing great topics.
Don’t commit to blogging every day or being on social networks more time than your schedule allows. Start small and build momentum as you go. If you can produce two blog posts a week and promote the content on social networks throughout the week, you are in good shape. There are many publishing tools for blogs and social media that enable you to schedule out your posts and messages. Take time every Monday to plan your week of content and take a few times a day to check in with your networks to interact with your connections and monitor any questions or feedback you have received on your posts.
3. Be searchable, findable and shareable:
Your ability to engage across inbound marketing channels depends on how effective you are at creating meaningful, shareable information that resonates with your target audience. Think about certain terms people would use to find you. Use terms your target audience actually uses to find you, not the terms you want to be found with.
Google’s Keyword Tool is a great place to get started when you are unsure of what terms should be included in your website, blogs and social media posts. Google’s free tool shows you the search activity for specific words and phrases so that you can choose which ones are most popular for your target audience. You also can put in your website or a competitor’s URL, and it will analyze the site and give you a list of related keywords.
Rate the keywords you find by relevance to your businesses and number of searches. Select the top 10 to 20 and keep a spreadsheet of these words to refer to as you produce your blog posts, social media posts or other pieces of content.
Social media platforms are great channels for helping your content be found and shared amongst your target audiences. Publish your posts to all your social media pages with links back to the article or piece of content on your site. Use your keywords in your posts whenever possible to help boost your search rankings.
Encourage visitors to your website to share information they like by including buttons to your social media pages. Visitors to your website are already interested in what you have to say and are more than likely to want to follow you on your social profiles to connect further. Once you have people following your social profiles, all of their friends also see your interactions, which potentially leads to even more followers for you.
To be successful on social media, you need to be effective in the social component. Interacting with others is just as important as posting relevant information. People who are connecting with you want to know you are listening, especially if they are considering doing business with your company. Interacting with them in a timely manner on social channels ensures you care about your customers and take the time to engage with them.
Steer clear of posts that are overly self-promotional. People do not find your latest specials all that interesting and are even less inclined to share the information with their own networks. Keeping your posts fresh and current are also keys to engaging and attracting your audience.
Don’t fall into the trap of posting non-relevant content just to update your profile with a post. While pictures of kittens playing guitars may be cute, it doesn’t really connect you with your audience in a relevant way. Remember, what you publish on your social media channels impacts your credibility and your overall search rankings. If you find yourself running out of things to post each day, repost or borrow from someone else, but be sure to give them credit.
The transition from intrusive marketing tactics to ones that focus on generating inbound traffic is not a fad that is going away. In fact it is growing every day. Costs for inbound marketing make it an even more appealing option than other tactics, especially for small businesses. According to report by Hubspot, the average lead for outbound marketing costs $346 while the average inbound lead costs $135. Keep in mind, these are just leads; not yet customers. The average close rate for outbound leads is 2%, while inbound channels see an average close rate of at least 9% and, in the case of search engine optimized leads, upwards of 15% close rate.
In this age of Google knows best, inbound marketing driven by good content is what your company needs in order to be successful.
Colleen Weston is an advocate and practitioner of inbound marketing strategies currently serving as the Director of Marketing of Arzel Zoning Technology, a zoning system manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also the owner of BrainChild Advertising, a marketing-consulting company that specializes in small business development.