March 28, 2016
If you’re in the process of beginning content creation efforts for your website or blog, it’s likely you have a lot of questions about how to best get started.
While “content” is a huge buzzword right now, the process of how to get content is a little foggy. Some feel like content just appears on the Web and few people fully understand what goes into content creation. This is understandable — the process can be mysterious for people who have never dabbled in it before.
Here’s what you need to know:
Why Create Content?
In order to spearhead a good content creation program, you first need to understand why content is so important. Right now, 27 million pieces of content are shared across the Web on a daily basis. This content ranges from text-based content like articles and tutorials to video content and photo content. What’s more, about 87 percent of B2B marketers are using content marketing in their organizations and a whopping 70 percent of them are putting out more content than they did last year.
Content is a huge tool for businesses. Through content, companies can reach customers through a strategic and targeted approach. When content is valuable, useful, actionable, and interesting to readers, it gains social shares and draws more people to your company. This, in turn, helps you expand your reach on the Web and earn more leads.
Everyone is using content marketing right now and companies that aren’t prepared to create and distribute high-quality content are missing out on a huge amount of traffic and success. Consider the following:
- 82 percent of customers feel closer to a company after reading the company’s original content;
- 90 percent of customers believe that custom content is useful in making purchasing decisions;
- 60 percent of customers will likely buy from a company that writes useful content;
- 60 percent of people will seek out a product after they read about it through Web content.
These statistics make it clear that in addition to doing functional things like helping your site rank for SEO, creating high-quality, unique, original content also boosts your business in the eyes of your customers and helps you earn more business. We live in a content-focused world. Today’s consumers don’t want the gimmicky hard-sell tactics of a few decades back – they want valuable, interesting, informational content that helps them make purchasing decisions and learn new things. When you can provide this for them, you set yourself up to be an authority figure in their minds as well as the company to which they’ll turn when they’re ready to make a purchase.
The Content Creation Process: 5 Key Steps
Now that you know why content is so important, it’s time to cover the how of content marketing. Content marketing is a process and nothing happens overnight. Rather, there are several definitive steps and pieces to creating a functional content creation machine. These steps are as follows:
1. Identify your audience
This is huge. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, it’s virtually impossible to write targeted content. Companies that create effective blog content, commercials, or podcasts know exactly who their target market is and what those people care about and can thus deliver targeted, quality content that their customers find interesting, engaging, and exciting.
That said, the first step in your content creation efforts is to define your target audience. To do this, you’ll need to sit down with a piece of paper (or use an online template, if you prefer) and think about your audience. Who are they? Where do they live? How old are they? How much money do they make? What do they care about (social, cultural, environmental, financial, or personal issues)? What problems are they facing? For an example, consider these examples from HubSpot.
Once you’ve answered these questions, the next step is to find out where your target audience hangs out. Do they read blogs? If so, when and how often? Maybe they prefer Facebook or Twitter. Maybe they love podcasts. No matter what their unique preferences are, you need to know these things about them to tailor your content strategy to them (more on this later). Search Engine Journal offers an awesome tutorial for this process that should be very helpful to green or first-time content creators.
Combine all of these answers into one specific marketing persona. Give him or her a name and a photo if it helps make the person feel more real. You’ll create additional buyer personas as needed, but for now, you can focus on writing all of your content for that one person. Doing this will help ensure that your content is targeted, useful, and interesting to your customers.
2. Set your goals
You know who you’re writing for – now let’s talk about why you’re writing for them. Is the purpose of your web content to drive sales? Is it to earn leads or drive social shares? No matter what your content marketing goals are, defining them in clear terms will help you target your content more effectively. According to MarketingProfs, the basic content marketing goals are as follows:
- Business Value
It’s possible that your content falls into one of those categories or all three. In any event, though, you need to determine what you want your content to achieve before you start creating it.
3. Determine how you’ll share content
Once you’ve decided who you’re writing for and why, it’s time to consider how you’re going to get your content to them. Web content is a varied discipline and you have the option of blogging, sharing content on social media, participating in forums and question sites like Quora, or posting content on your website. No matter what you choose, it’s worth noting that nothing today stands alone. If you run a blog, you’ll also need to build and maintain a few social media profiles.
While this is often an intimidating prospect for new content creators, it’s not that difficult. Think of it this way: you need one platform to “house” all of your content (generally a blog, although it could be a website as well) and another few places to help it get noticed (social media, etc.) As a general rule, most content creators recommend starting with two social media platforms of your choice, building your profiles there, and then moving out to other platforms as you master the first ones. Doing this allows you to stay organized, keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed, and connect efficiently with your audience.
4. Think about SEO
SEO is the pillar that holds all great content up. Without SEO, it’s virtually impossible for readers to find your content, which makes even the best content useless. Fortunately, there’s a way around that pitfall. SEO stands for search engine optimization and refers to the process by which you optimize your content to make it more readable for humans and search engines alike.
When you optimize your content for SEO, you add immense value to it immediately. According to Search Engine Land, there are a few different factors to SEO.
- Content Quality: Content quality is measured by how valuable your content is. Regardless of whether it’s sales content or informational content, it needs to be unique, useful, and different.
- Content Research: Content research is a huge thing. While it’s important that content is factually accurate, we’re talking more specifically about keyword research here. Keyword research allows you to target specific keywords and phrases in order to help your content appear more prominently in search engine results pages (SERPs). Keyword research is an extensive and important topic and there are plenty of fantastic tutorials to help you explore the concept fully and ensure that you’re finding the best keywords for your site.
- Content Words: Once you’ve determined which keywords you’re going to use you have to distribute them throughout your content effectively. Most experts recommend sticking to a keyword density (the number of times you use your keywords in your content) of about 2.45 percent. Doing this prevents you from “keyword stuffing” (using keywords excessively and unnaturally throughout your content, a practice which can result in poor SEO rankings) and keeps your content readable for users.
- Content Freshness: Google loves many things, and fresh content is chief among them. Fresh content helps users find and engage with your site and shows Google that you’re active on your website or blog. While you might not be able to update your content on a daily basis right now, you can shoot to update it several times a week.
By being well-versed in these SEO factors, you can create better content and ensure that everything you write is catering to the needs of readers and search engines alike.
As with many things, content creation works best when you jump in. You need to have an idea of where you’re going and how you’ll get there (your target audience and content distribution platforms) but once you’ve got that down, the next step is to begin creating content. Doing this achieves several purposes: First of all, it allows you to start getting an idea for what your readers like and don’t like. Secondly, every page you write is a new page for Google to index, which can provide you with an SEO boost from the get-go. Finally, writing content is a great way to start attracting readers, even if you’re not batting 1,000 just yet.
If you’re having a hard time determining what you should write about, there are a few places you can turn. One great resource is Quora, which we mentioned a little earlier. Quora is a question-and-answer site that is a great place to mine for content ideas. Simply pick a thread that interests you or aligns with your industry and check out the up-voted questions and answers. Doing this can be a great way to figure out interesting content topics as well as to further your understanding about what’s going on in your industry.
Making Your Content Even Better: 3 Tips and Tricks
Now that you know the basic structure of content creation, let’s talk about what you can do to make your content even better. Content creation is a process and, as you begin to establish yourself within your industry, you’ll find that there are certain tools and tricks you can use to make your content creation easier and more efficient.
1. Seasonal Content Audits
A content audit is a little bit like spring cleaning: you go through your content to determine what’s working, what’s not, what’s old, what’s irrelevant, and what needs an update or correction. Doing this can strengthen your site hugely and help you make the most of the content you have. By getting rid of old, outdated, inaccurate, or unpopular content and replacing it with relevant, updated, current, interesting or valuable content, you can ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck, so to speak, and truly providing your readers with valuable information.
Doing a content audit is something that’s very intimidating to most people who have never done one before, but rest assured that it’s not as hard as it initially sounds. Undertake this important step a few times a year to ensure that your content is every bit as good as it should be.
2. Editorial calendars
Editorial calendars are believed by many to be the holy grail of content creation. If you’re a new blogger, an editorial calendar can help keep you organized and ensure that you meet your content goals. If you’re an experienced blogger, an editorial calendar is just a great tool to have. For those who don’t know, an editorial calendar is a planning document that helps you plan and execute your content. Specifically, it does the following things:
- Allows marketers to brainstorm and generate ideas for posts
- Allows an organized platform for delegation of responsibilities related to content
- Helps marketers create and stick to a publishing schedule, which is one of the most important components in building and maintaining a web presence
- Allows marketers to have a bird’s eye view of marketing strategies
- Acts as a platform for communication and collaboration in larger teams
Content creation isn’t something you can just improvise – at least not for very long. It requires strategy, planning, intentional direction, and consistency, and an editorial calendar is a perfect platform for putting all of these things in place. Companies like CoSchedule offer free content marketing editorial calendar templates that are a great place to get started.
3. Tools of the trade
Did you know that there are several tools you can use to help your content marketing efforts be more effective? One of my personal favorites is SEMrush.
SEMrush is a digital marketing platform that allows you to do produce analytics reports, display advertising, conduct research, learn about effective video marketing, discover top industry leaders, find out what the most shared content in your industry has been, estimate the ranking difficult for a given keyword, track your position, group keywords, and manage social media. It’s an exhaustive list, but it’s one of the best services we know.
Using tools like SEMrush not only catapults your content creation efforts to the professional level but it also gives you a real edge over your competition. By learning all you can learn about what’s working and what isn’t in your content creation, you can ensure that you create the best possible content every time you sit down to write.
Content creation: taken alone, it sounds like an impenetrable wall of confusing steps. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as tough as it sounds. By taking the entire process step by step and focusing on doing each thing well, you can get your content creation efforts off to a great start, regardless of whether you’re a seasoned writer or you’re starting your first website today.
Content creation doesn’t have to be the domain of high-level experts only and, with a little effort and a good deal of learning, it’s not hard to position yourself to succeed at content both now and in the future.
Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.