This guide helps you understand what content marketing is, how to explain its benefits to your marketing peers and how to get started. We've also included insights and tips from 15 content marketing experts to give you the best head start for 2021 and beyond.
We cover the following topics:
- What is content marketing?
- Why is content marketing important?
- 3 common objections to content marketing
- Over 30 types of content marketing
- 5 examples of effective content marketing
- 15 tips from content marketing experts you can use this year
Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing content to attract and retain customers, so you can increase revenue and ultimately grow your business.
At Ahrefs, our content marketing strategy is simple and effective: we create in-depth blog posts and YouTube videos that teach potential and existing clients how to solve problems and increase traffic to their website using our tools. We rely primarily on search engine optimization(SEO) to drive qualified traffic to the site, which currently receives ~400,000 organic visits per month:
Blogging and YouTube work for Ahrefs, but there are many other content marketing formats you can use depending on your audience, resources, and goals (more on that later).
Content marketing helps attract, engage, convert and retain customers. We know of at least five compelling reasons to invest in it
- Create awareness and attract potential customers
- Engage your audience and build credibility
- Converting customers
- Retain and develop customer loyalty
- Content marketing has compounding returns (and is cheap in the long run)
I'll address each of these points with an example of how Ahrefs practices content marketing. You'll find more from different industries in the examples section below.
1. Content marketing helps you build awareness and attract potential customers
When people have a problem they want to solve or a desire they want to fulfill, they won't consider your brand and products if they don't know you exist. Content marketing is a way to make sure they discover you.
For example, at Ahrefs, we help people get more traffic to their websites. But they're unlikely to search for "Ahrefs" directly in Google, because they're probably not familiar with our tool yet; they usually start their journey by Googling something closer to their goal, like "increase website traffic." Using content marketing, we can show up for that search and form an initial mental connection between Ahrefs and the problem they want to solve.
2. Content marketing allows you to engage your audience and build credibility
Just because someone knows about you doesn't mean they will choose your brand or product. But if you provide them with engaging and reliable content the second, third and fourth time they look for ideas or solutions, you increase your chances.
To continue with the previous example, let's say that someone has inquired about the referencing and is now looking for something more specific, like "how to do keyword research" Since we wrote an article on this topic and we are at the top of the list on Google, it eventually finds us - again.
It's the same story on YouTube. We have a video on keyword research, so people can't help but come across our brand when they search for that topic.
If that person follows the internal links or continues their search, they'll likely find our keyword generator tool, which allows you to come up with thousands of keyword ideas for free while getting a taste of what Ahrefs can do (and yes: free tools are also good examples of content marketing).
3. Content marketing helps you convert customers
Even when your potential customers know who you are and what you offer, they may still have some objections before choosing you. This is where content marketing can provide the final push to help people decide to become customers.
For example, Ahrefs is not the only tool for referencing in the market, and our potential customers might want to know how we stack up against the competition before they subscribe. We've created content that directly addresses this need, and people can find it by Googling our name against a competitor's (e.g., "Ahrefs vs. Moz").
If we have convincingly answered all questions and objections, and based on everything they already know about us, the CTA to our 7 $ trial should be the final push they need
4. Content marketing helps you build customer loyalty
The ultimate goal of content marketing is to increase sales and grow the business. So it's not just about making a sale, but also about keeping your existing customers interested and informed, which fosters brand loyalty and retention.
At Ahrefs, we don't create unique blog content for this stage. Because we're always focused on solving specific problems and educating our audience, our content is geared towards both potential and existing customers. But we have a dedicated help section more specific to our customers, where we help them understand the data they see in our tool and how it can benefit them. This is important for retention, because if they don't understand the value we bring to them, they are unlikely to continue paying us month after month
5. Content marketing has compounding returns (and is cheap in the long run)
Unlike channels such as paid advertising, which stop working as soon as you stop investing in them, content marketing offers compounded returns on the initial investment.
To put it simply, if you spend 1,000 $ on advertising today to get 100 clicks on your blog, you'll have to spend another 1,000 $ tomorrow to get the same result. On the other hand, if you spend 1,000 $ on creating optimized content, that same content can continue to drive traffic to your site months or even years after it's first published.
In our case, this blog ranks for 170,000 organic keywords and attracts about 385,000 visitors per month. If we were trying to get the same amount of traffic through paid ads, we'd be spending about $992,000 per month, which is nowhere near the amount we spend on content creation.
Recommended reading: How to build a winning content marketing strategy in 9 steps
You may already be convinced of the value of content marketing, but that doesn't mean your marketers and/or partners will be either.
A few common objections tend to come up in discussions about content marketing, and you'll need to overcome them to get buy-in for your projects:
- Paid advertising attracts more traffic and customers, faster
- It takes too long to get results
- The return on investment
is difficult to measure
1. Paid advertising attracts more traffic and customers, faster
Paid advertising is indeed a fast (though expensive) way to generate traffic: as soon as you have paid to place an ad in front of people's eyes, and provided you have done your targeting properly, traffic will start flowing in.
However, in most cases, paid ads send traffic to pages at the bottom of your marketing funnel that are designed for immediate conversion, like landing pages or product pages. By sending traffic there, you can generate a sale, but only to people who are ready to buy, and you miss out on everyone else.
For example, if someone is searching for "how to drive traffic to a website," they are probably in learning mode (not buying mode). While we could run paid ads for that keyword and send searchers to a dedicated landing page, we'd probably be wasting money on people who probably won't convert because they aren't ready to buy.
Content marketing, on the other hand, helps us attract, engage and convert customers throughout the funnel. This process builds brand awareness and trust, so when those people are ready to buy, our paid ads will likely be more effective.
Instead of getting caught up in a battle between paid ads and content marketing, it makes more sense to discuss how to use the two together to maximize short and long-term results.
2. It takes too long to get results
If you define "results" solely as sales or leads, then yes: content marketing can take longer to get results than more immediate channels like paid advertising (see objection 1).
But just because one activity takes longer than another does not mean it is unnecessary. For example, driving around a mountain is faster than building a tunnel. But once you build the tunnel, you can drive through it in a fraction of the time, every time.
Content marketing is similar: it takes time to build, but it eventually becomes a source of regular sales and leads. And once you have an established audience, content marketing can produce results comparatively faster than if you start from scratch
than if you start from scratch.
3. The return on investment
is difficult to measure
The return on investment exact content marketing can indeed be difficult to measure; you would need to develop a very sophisticated attribution model to track the influence and impact of content across your entire funnel while isolating each variable.
However, there are specific metrics you can track for each stage of your marketing funnel, and you can use them for a partial calculation of the KING:
Similarly, it is not difficult to estimate the return on investment of SEO-driven content marketing. You can look at the traffic potential and value of top ranked results and calculate the cost of writing, shipping and promoting an article versus the qualified traffic it can generate over time.
Recommended viewing: Our CMO Tim Soulo explains the value of content marketing
There are many many types of content marketing:
- Blog posts
- Free tools
...and the list goes on. And you might be tempted to try to do a little bit of everything in the hopes of reaching more people. But we recommend you take a more strategic approach: focus on two or three formats that are likely to have the most significant impact on your activity.
For us, blogging is the oldest content format. We know that our audience of SEOs, marketers and bloggers are looking for the information they need from Google. So we make sure to create scalable content that ranks and brings us targeted traffic. And because sometimes it's easier to explain something in a video, especially if you're trying to demonstrate how a tool works, we also create videos that we embed in our written articles and post on YouTube
If you know that your audience primarily uses Google to solve problems or find ideas, you can replicate the success of our blogs by using the referencing to drive traffic to your content in 3 steps:
1. Find topics related to your business
Think about what people might type into Google to find you: this is your starting keyword. For example, if your company sells analog photography equipment, the starting point could be simply "35mm film".
Enter this keyword in the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and see the report QuestionsThis is a tool that gives you content ideas in the form of questions. Write down all the questions you can answer in a blog post.
Recommended reading: How to do a keyword search for the referencing
2. Create the right type of content
Once you've chosen a keyword, make sure the content you create is what your searchers want. This is called search intent, and you can determine it by looking at the top ranked results:
In this example, you'll notice that the results are step-by-step guides that include a specific "at home" angle - which tells us that most searchers are probably amateur photographers, not professionals, so your content should take a similar angle.
When relevant, you should highlight your product(s) naturally in the article. For example, in its article on home film processing, B&H Photo Video guides you step by step to relevant product pages
In almost all of our content, including this guide, we include screenshots from the Ahrefs dashboard, so you can see how to use our tools to achieve your goals.
Recommended reading: What is the editorial team SEO ?
3. Promote your content
Once your content is live, you can send it to your audience, such as your email list and/or people who follow you on social media. In our case, we can also spend a few hundred dollars to promote the post using Facebook or Twitter ads :
But these are not the only ways to promote your content: use this content promotion checklist so that more people will see it.
Blogging is a great way to create content that appeals to your target audience, but other formats can be just as effective. It all depends on your audience and how you it search and consume information. Here are five examples of effective content marketing that have nothing to do with blogging:
- Fix.com's YouTube videos
- The Naturalicious Facebook community
- The 15Five podcast
- Mattel's virtual playroom and activity sheets
- Courses of the Balsamiq Academy
1. YouTube videos from Fix.com
Quick Statistics → 30k YouTube subscribers, 16 million video views.
What they do → Fix.com is an e-commerce site for household appliance parts that uses How-to YouTube videos to educate potential and current customers. By providing helpful step-by-step videos, Fix.com establishes expertise, builds trust and makes it easy for customers to find what they need.
Why it works → Many Google SERPs for "how-to" searches have videos as the first result, and Fix.com maximizes its chances of exposure by maintaining a presence on YouTube.
The videos and posts Fix.com creates are evergreen, so they continue to generate traffic for years (making them a very cost-effective content marketing strategy).
How you can do the same → The Fix.com approach works well if your product or service solves a specific problem (in this example, faulty appliances). Use keyword research to determine what your audience needs help with and create content in the format that best helps them get what they need.
2. Naturalicious Facebook community
Quick Statistics → 11k Facebook group members.
What they do → Naturalicious, a natural and organic hair care company, manages a Facebook community called "The Nation", headed by the founder and CEO Gwen Jimmere.
Why it works → With hands-on walkthroughs and live sessions, The Nation supports and empowers its customers to get the most out of Naturalicious' products. In addition, the group creates a sense of shared community as members actively support and help each other by sharing beauty tips, advice and encouragement.
How you can do the same → The Naturalicious approach is ideal for businesses with a specific target demographic (in this example, black women and/or women with textured hair). By creating a community, you can have a two-way conversation with your existing and potential customers, gaining insight into what matters most to them while associating your product or service with the community itself.
3. The 15Five podcast
Quick Statistics → 220 backlinks, 165 organic keywords to the podcast landing page.
What they do → 15Five is an employee performance management platform that helps managers keep their teams happy and motivated. In their Best-Self Management podcast15Five's co-founders interview business leaders and managers human resources for information and inspiration on creating a great corporate culture.
Why it works → The podcast focuses entirely on the job at hand that the software solves: supporting employees and teams at work so they can perform at their best. Using an interview format, it externalizes expertise and inspiration and creates brand associations between 15Five and the task of creating better, more successful teams.
In addition, the podcast's homepage is categorized as page 1 for "management podcast", making it easy for the company's target audience to find it:
How you can do the same → 15Five's approach can work well if your target audience listens to podcasts and if your business is tied to a specific lifestyle, hobby, ambition or job to do. By inviting experts, you can position yourself and your brand as a knowledge curator while leveraging your guests' networks to amplify your work.
4. Mattel's virtual playroom and activity sheets
Quick Statistics → 21k backlinks, 4.8k Facebook shares.
What they do → In March 2020, toy maker Mattel (known for its Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price brands) responded to COVID-19 by creating a virtual game room with free games and downloadable activity sheets in PDF for children and families.
Why it works → With its free entertainment resource, Mattel has attracted huge media coverage and backlinks that have b
ring the traffic of reference. The activity sheets reinforce the Mattel brand as a leader in children's entertainment and help make life easier for their customers (in this case, parents and caregivers).
How you can do the same→ Create content that lets people experience some of your products for free. Our own webmaster tools are a similar example, giving website owners free (but limited) access to two of our most popular tools: Site Explorer and Site Audit. It's not about giving everything away, but about being there to help - which can put a brand at the top of the list when potential customers want to make a purchase in the future.
5. Course of the Balsamiq Academy
Quick Statistics → 8k organic keywords, 12k monthly organic traffic, 24.9k $ monthly traffic value.
What they do → The Balsamiq wiring diagram creation tool has created a academy and a learning center to educate and develop potential and existing clients.
Why it works → The Balsamiq Wireframing Academy increases brand awareness with optimized learning resources that appear in SERPs for searches such as "what is a wireframe?" and "content-first approach" These are typical searches of a person in the research phase, and Balsamiq is there to be a first point of contact for potential customers.
How you can do the same → Balsamiq's approach works perfectly if your product is designed for experts or skilled users. By providing comprehensive training programs, you help beginners coach the specific skills they need to get value from your product while developing industry expertise.We use a similar approach with the free Ahrefs Academy courses.
Recommended reading: 7 inspiring examples of content marketing (and how to replicate them)
There's no one way to do content marketing, so we thought it would be good to close this guide with a sampling of people who put content marketing theory into practice every day.
We asked experts from different markets to answer this question: "Based on your experience, what is youris the onlything you recommend businesses and marketers do to deliver great content marketing next year? "You'll find that some of these tips naturally contradict each other - and that's the great thing about content marketing: you can go down completely opposite paths and still succeed, because it all depends on what works for your public.
Here are the practitioners who shared their advice:
- Al Chen
- Lauren Hall
- Tom Cox
- Joei Chan
- Olivia Blazevic
- Aazar Ali Shad
- Fio Dossetto
- Alina Benny
- Tracey Wallace
- Hiba Amin
- Tim Soulo, CMO
- Stephanie Bregman, CMO
- Fadeke Adegbuyi
- Louis Grenier
- Len Markidan
Solutions Architect, Coda
Brand Marketing Associate, Privy
content marketing specialist, Preply
Director of Content, 360Learning
Content Marketing Manager, Candlefox
Head of Growth, Userpilot
who also wrote the article you are reading now
Content Manager, Nextiva
Director of Marketing, MarketerHire
marketing manager, Soapbox
Senior Director of Content Marketing, Doist
Director of Marketing, Podia
Research and talk to your customers
Before working on any content, research your existing customers/users or potential customers. This will give you first-hand information about your ideal customer profile (PIC) and on the problem your target audience thinks your product or service solves.
When you start creating content, you can use the words and phrases that your CPI
used during the market research. Of course, you can change these by doing a basic search on Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and making sure the keywords have good volume or determining if there are others you should include. There's nothing like talking to your customers to find out what content would resonate with them the most!
Reuse your content
Always look for creative ways to reuse content you already have. Remember, people are lazy. The easier you make it for them to consume your content, the better. This means that how you present things is important. Do you have the ability to take the information from your best blog posts and turn it into a book? If you have a podcast, do you have a guide to the best episodes for new listeners? Don't leave it up to your audience to sort through your content. You're the expert, it's up to you to do the heavy lifting.
Focus your efforts on the people who need you, but don't know it yet
Often, we content creators focus on producing high search volume content and neglect the keywords people use to find products like ours.
Find keywords from your team PPC
and thinking about all the needs that your product directly addresses. At Preply, we offer private tutoring with online tutors: so we have content on "online English courses" that even mentions some of our competitors, as we are obviously not the only language learning platform. But users want to feel confident that they are looking at all the options and making their own choice, and we find that this transparency attracts more potential students to our financial pages.
Work smart instead of hard. Then you'll see the results of what should be the measure of "exceptional" content: new customers and direct business impact.
Test and repeat the formats that best suit your objectives
The marketing world is changing rapidly and content needs to adapt accordingly. You don't grow the same way when you go from 0 to 1 or when you go from a large-scale business to a unicorn. Content needs to adapt to your business needs at that point and your strategy needs to be reviewed every couple of months.
At the beginning of the year, I focused on building traffic, working on the referencing
and top-of-funnel content. I achieved those goals, but I created a new problem: conversion. So I hired a full-time writer to work on bottom-of-funnel content and improve our sales tracking emails.
Another example: we thought we had found our magic bullet, webinars, because they worked so well for generating leads. So we thought that if we doubled them, we would get twice the results. That didn't happen. We got diminishing returns.
That's a long-winded way of saying that every time you reach your content goal, you create new challenges and will need new content or strategies to solve them.
Appeal to your audience's core values
In 2021, it will be more important than ever to create a trustworthy brand that connects with consumers. "Visibility" of your brand is not enough: users want more than the solution to their problem. They want to engage with companies that share common values with them. Brands that have earned their trust. The notion of brand affinity reflects this new idea of brand building by focusing on creating "advocates", rather than a passive audience.
To build brand affinity, we're exploring the idea of long-form content, worthy of repeat viewing, that will appeal to the core values of our niche audience and build those meaningful relationships. It's about creating those "super fans" who will then become advocates and grow your community for you.,
Looking at the microform
Right now, we're primed for short, concise content in our lives. And content marketing is about inspiring people and giving them value: if our goal is to provide value to users when they need it and as quickly as possible, we need to start thinking about micro-content. Less can sometimes be more.
Think about how this can be applied to videos: YouTube is becoming a search engine, and more and more people are used to searching for information there. So I think every blog post should also be turned into short videosfrom
Don't jump right into the tactics
Content marketing tactics and formats vary, channels come and go, but some things never change - and those are the ones you need to keep in mind. Follow these three steps:
- Start with a diagnostic phase, where you understand who you're addressing, what problems you're trying to solve for that audience through your content, and define the challenge or opportunity before you
- Follow up with a strategy phase, in which you define the overall approach you will take to your audience
- Finish with the specific tactics you will use to implement your strategy. These are the ones that may look different in 2021 than in 2015, such as "we should focus on the referencing
and long pieces" or "we should do Instagram Stories."
Diagnosis precedes strategy precedes tactics. But too often, we content marketers jump right into tactics (...because it's fun) at the expense of the previous two steps - and we may get lucky and experience temporary success, but that's not a reliable and repeatable way to build lasting impact with our content.you are reading, said, "I can't just be an inspiration
Optimize the content you already have
We don't need new content. If the powers that be say they need more blogs, more landing pages, and a regular "publishing cadence" so you can get ahead of your competition, FUYEZ!
Two reasons for this:
- You don't immediately respond with a yes or no confirming or denying this seemingly innocuous request. Most executives who speak from this angle are either under duress from other company executives who want to fight the traffic war, or they haven't yet discovered the power of the long-term game that is referencing
- Data. You need data on your low-performing content or opportunities at hand. Define your action plan for low-quality content that generated few page views, backlinks or engagement of any kind.
Once you understand the first case and are armed with the second, it's easier to make the case for increased optimization and not net new content. It's just as important to constantly prune and optimize your existing content as it is to seek out shiny new topics.
Take a holistic approach
Content briefs are a great resource for building high-level content and giving your writers a starting point (no one likes a blank page). But in 2021, the audience you have is going to become even more important, which means you need to think beyond summaries. Think about the referencing of the entire site, including a strategic site map, content that supports that site map, and clear, non-intrusive ways to create a list and collect first-party data.
The end of the third-party cookie is near, and those who now invest in referencing
and robust content (including list building) will be best prepared for the reign of first-party data that will fully take hold in 2022 when Google Chrome stops sending third-party cookies.
Create product-focused content
Find a way to turn your product into actionable content. Not only do these items have the potential to open up a wide range of long-tail keywords, but they are also excellent conversion engines.
For example, at Soapbox, one of the main value-adds of our product is our huge library of agenda templates. Fortunately for us, people who actively search for calendar templates tend to convert to free or paid users. So we created a search-driven calendar template library that allowed us to rank for a wide range of long-tail keywords while driving quality traffic to our website. We have since replicated this experience with another library.
In summary, my advice is to identify the most valuable elements of your product or service and deliver that experience through content.
Tip for content writers: act like a journalist
My advice is this: act like a journalist. Because journalists try to get information from people who know a little bit more about the subject than they do, and often experiment. Some would eat for a month in a McDonald's just to write an article, and others would infiltrate criminal groups and live their lives. You don't need that level, but the point is that award-winning journalists who want to create work that helps and impresses don't just sit in their basements and read other journalists' stories and write the same ideas in different words. Don't just act like a person who writes articles: be like a journalist who has to work to produce the story in addition to typing it on the keyboard.
Tell your story in a coherent way
Companies need to invest in creative and have an omnichannel approach to marketing. Manly Bands has a full creative team that helps tell our brand story seamlessly across the customer journey, whether they see us on TV, Facebook, Google or email.
Empathize with your audience
Writing with search intent in mind while naturally positioning your product or service as a solution is a balancing act.
Before you start writing an article, empathize with your reader. Think about and research what they already know, what they need to know, and what information you need to provide to help them solve their problem.
- Use Google (or other referencing
like Ahrefs!) to see what is currently ranking for the keyword you want and how it answers the reader's question.
- Use the Twitter search
to find discussions related to your search term and note the questions and concerns people have and the resources they share
- Use Reddit
to discover conversations related to your topic and understand what a potential researcher really needs to know
These strategies allow content marketers to go beyond just scratching the surface when it comes to writing useful content that converts.
Create radically different content
There's more and more clutter online, you know that. Everyone is "creating content" these days. So how do you make your content stand out?
- Focus on your minimum viable market.
No, you don't market to everyone. Talk to your best customers, the ones you enjoy working with the most and who bring you the most money.
- Identify their specific issues and challenges.
These should come up in your conversations. Be very specific. It's much easier to create the best content on the planet for a very specific issue.
- Develop your uniqueness.
Determine what content already exists, make a list of all the topics they cover, but also the typical format they use, the tone of voice... This is your status quo
- Remove anything that goes against your company's beliefs and purpose
You will find out what your customers don't like, anything that doesn't contribute to solving the very specific challenge you have chosen.
- Carefully add anything that goes against the status quo you have identified.
Add anything that helps your minimum viable market achieve its goals faster, simpler and easier.
- Take risks.
You won't make your content stand out without it. Zig when others zag. Taking no chances is the riskiest option. If you don't, no one will notice your content.
Take big risks. As trivial as it may seem, it is there is NEVER There's no better time to try something new. While in normal years it's fairly easy to adapt the major content manuals to your business, there's still not a content marketer on the planet who can write on his or her resume "Launched a successful content initiative as the market emerged from a pandemic" (....).
There is no playbook, so use this as permission to write one from scratch. Be creative about how you can inform, help and delight your market as it cautiously approaches a return to normalcy. Your pitch that didn't stand a chance ("it's too risky") a year ago today? Now is the time.
Want to continue learning about content marketing? We've got just what you need. Here are some of our favorite resources for you to read and watch to continue learning:
- How to build a winning content marketing strategy in 9 steps
- 5 reasons why content marketing is important
- 7 successful examples of content marketing B2B
- 5 types of content marketing to grow your business
- A content marketing strategy that generates leads and sales
- A effective content marketing on a small budget
(see on YouTube)
(see on YouTube)