What Is Content Marketing? Complete Beginner's Guide

What Is Content Marketing?

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a type of marketing that consists of strategically creating, publishing, and promoting content (including blog posts, emails, videos and podcasts). Content marketing is typically used to increase brand awareness and engagement, attract visitors or users, generate sales leads, or drive purchases and revenue.

Why Is Content Marketing Important?

Simply put: when done right, content marketing has a great ROI.

And unlike other forms of digital marketing (like PPC or PR), content marketing can continue to deliver for your business over the long-term.

Unlike a Facebook ad or press release, content can continue to drive traffic, brand awareness and leads for years.

Long term ROI from content marketing

Which is why, according to HubSpot, marketers who make blogging a priority are 13x more likely to see positive ROI than those that don’t.

I’m living proof that content marketing works.

Since launching my business in 2013, our blog content alone has generated 9,254,783 total visitors to date.

That doesn’t even include the millions of people that have seen our content on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

So it’s clear that content marketing can work. The question is: how do you start taking advantage of it?

On the rest of this guide I’ll walk you through the content marketing basics you need to know.

Best Practices

Define Your Audience

The first step to any content marketing campaign is figuring out your target audience.

In fact, I’ve seen lots of people struggle with content marketing because they don’t clearly define their audience. Instead, they jump right into finding keywords and writing blog posts.

For example, when I started Backlinko, I defined my target audience as “professional marketers who want higher rankings and more traffic”.

And this informed EVERYTHING I wrote.

For example, because my audience was made up of pros, I tended to cover more advanced SEO topics.

There were times that I wanted to dumb things down to appeal to newbies. But I knew that this wouldn’t appeal to my target audience.

So I skipped explanations.

Your target audience not only defines the topics you’ll cover, but the content formats that you focus on.

For example, a few years back I noticed that more and more of my target audience was learning about marketing from YouTube. So I decided to launch a YouTube channel so that my content would get in front of my peeps.

Fortunately, figuring out your target audience isn’t a hard or complicated process.

In fact, if you talk to customers on a regular basis, you probably already have a good idea of what types of problems they have… problems that your audience can help solve.

And if you want to dig deep into who your content’s audience will be, I recommend trying HubSpot’s “Make My Persona” tool.

This free tool helps you create a customer avatar that you can share with everyone in your marketing team.

That way, everyone involved in creating content, from writers to editors to SEO professionals, know who the content is meant to serve.

Create Content That Your Audience Will Love

Now that you have a grasp of who your audience is, it’s time to create content specifically for them.

In my experience, the best way to do that is to figure out your audience’s pain points. And create content that helps them solve those problems.

For example, my content is almost 100% “how-to” content that teaches people how to optimize their site.

You can find your audience’s burning problems on subreddits, forums and Facebook groups where your target audience hangs out.

For example, if you run an ecommerce website that sells tennis rackets, then the tennis subreddit is a goldmine of content topic ideas.

And if you’re in the SEO space, then the Moz Q&A forum is one of the first places I’d check out.

Pro Tip: Those same places you go to get content ideas are also the places you can promote your content once it’s published. So don’t just observe those communities: interact with them, make comments, add value. Then, when you have something to promote, you won’t come off as a pushy marketer. You’re just a member of the community that wants to share something cool.

There’s a place for straight up entertaining or inspiring content too. For example, Red Bull publishes content of people doing all sorts of extreme stuff.

But like I said, if you’re new to SEO, I recommend focusing on practical, helpful content. Then, once you get the hang of that, you can test out different approaches.

Keyword research is another great way to identify issues that your audience wants to solve.

After all, what do people do when they want to figure something out? They search in Google!

Plus, SEO will probably end up being a big part of your content marketing efforts. So it’s a smart idea to start creating content that’s designed to rank in search engines.

Develop a Content Marketing Plan

So you have a handle on who your audience is. And the type of content they want to consume.

Now it’s time to put what you learned into a step-by-step content marketing strategy.

Specifically, you want to create content for people in different stages of the marketing funnel (aka the buying cycle).

The goal of each step of a marketing funnel is to push people into the next step.

In a perfect world, someone first finds your website at the top of the funnel. And your content pushes people to the next stage.

In reality, people enter your funnel at lots of different stages.

So you want to have content that appeals to people at each stage.

Top of the Funnel: Awareness and Branding

Top of the Funnel content isn’t designed to convert random visitors into loyal customers.

Most people need some nurturing and education to go from “I have this problem that I need to solve” to “this is the product I need”.

That’s where Top of the Funnel content comes in.

Top of the Funnel Content helps your target customer solve an issue or problem that they’re facing, which helps drive brand awareness.

Then, when they’re deeper in the funnel and ready to make a purchase, your company is top of mind.

In fact, one survey found that 62% of people agreed that online content helps boost brand loyalty.

Common types of Top of the Funnel content include:

  • Blog posts
  • YouTube videos
  • Live video
  • Viral content
  • Infographics
  • Social media posts
  • Podcast episodes

Even though Top of the Funnel content usually doesn’t increase conversions right away, it’s still a super important part of content marketing.

In fact, the growth of our business is largely due to Top of the Funnel content. It’s what we publish most and what we’re best at.

Top of the Funnel content is powerful for two main reasons:

First, there’s a lot of demand for this type of content. Which means that you can use Top of the Funnel content to drive significant amounts of traffic to your website.

For example, look at the monthly search volumes for these two keywords:

The early stage term “what is the keto diet” gets searched for 4.5x more than the Bottom of the Funnel term, “keto supplements”.

Also, this type of content is great for establishing your company as experts in your field.

For example, thanks to regularly publishing helpful content, I’ve been featured in dozens of major media outlets.

And this wouldn’t have happened if I only published content about my own products.

Middle of the Funnel: Interest

With the Middle of the Funnel, your goal shifts from awareness to interest.

At this point, your potential customer has decided to take action. They just need to decide which option is best for them.

For example, let’s say that you sell an at-home workout app.

Well, someone that wants to lose weight and get in shape has A LOT of options.

Thanks to the awareness that you already built, your app is already on their radar screen. Now it’s a matter of sending them content to help them decide that an app is their best option.

Common types of Middle of the Funnel content include:

  • Email newsletters
  • Product comparison posts
  • Case studies
  • Pre launch sequences
  • Product demos
  • Ebooks and whitepapers
  • Landing pages

As an example, before we launch a new course, we send our email subscribers content that shows how our students have seen results from our material.

I should point out that this content doesn’t have a call to action to make a purchase. The #1 goal here is to show our readers that our course might be the best option for them.

Bottom of the Funnel: Drive Action

Last up, we have Bottom of the Funnel content.

This goal here is straightforward: create content that pushes people to convert.

Common types of Bottom of the Funnel content includes:

  • Sales pages
  • Webinars
  • Sales emails
  • Customer testimonials

For example, when we open enrollment for one of our courses, the type of content that we publish shifts from “here are some helpful tips” to “check out this new product”.

The content on the pages that we send people to also changes.

There is some helpful content on our sales pages. But it’s engineered for sales.

Make Your Content Work on Different Channels

The cool thing about content marketing is that people WANT to consume it.

People already read blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch videos.

So it’s just a matter of getting YOUR content in front of them.

The easier you make it for people to consume your content, the more likely they’ll consume it.

(And share it with their friends on different social networks).

Here are a few ways to make that happen:

Focus on Actionable Content

There’s a place for high-level “thought leader” content.

But in general, people want to consume ACTIONABLE content that they can put into practice right away.

For example, we pride ourselves on giving people tangible strategies that they can use to get more traffic.

And it forms the base of our entire content strategy.

I’m not alone. Blogs like Nerd Fitness don’t just say: “you need to exercise more often”.

Instead, they show you exactly HOW to exercise the right way.

The Denitslava Makeup YouTube channel is another great example of this approach in action.

All of their videos are SUPER practical.

As a bonus, this kind of content is much more shareable than high-level fluff.

For example, when we published this study on Google’s organic click-through-rate, most of the shares came from people sharing a specific stat… not the post in general.

Make It Mobile and Desktop Friendly

According to Comscore, people spend 69% of their time consuming content on their phones and tablets.

So it’s important that your content doesn’t just work on all devices… but works WELL.

For example, when you visit this poorly-optimized site on a phone, the content is super small and hard to read.

That’s a horrible UX.

The easiest way to make this happen is to use responsive design for your website.

But even then, I recommend testing your content on different devices to make sure that it’s super easy to read, watch and understand.

Repurpose Content For Different Channels

Content repurposing is one of the best ways to get more value out of the content you create.
This approach is simple:

Instead of publishing a single piece of content and calling it a day, you repurpose it into several different types of content.

For example, I recently published this video about copywriting.

Some of the content was original. But 90% of it was repurposed from my guide to copywriting.

The only catch is that you usually need to tweak your content for each channel.

In my case, I had our editor add animations to make the content work better on YouTube.

Focus on Pro Design

Design quality is one of four major factors in a site’s trustworthiness, according to the Nielsen Norman Group.

The better your site and content look, the more people will trust and value them.

What makes “good” design is obviously subjective. But there are a few content design best practices that most professional content marketers follow.

Readability

For text content, design is mostly about making your posts easy to read.

This means using big font with lots of contrast.

Lots of white space around the text.

And short paragraphs.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t add design elements just to look cool. We do that all the time here at Backlinko and it works well.

But illustrations and images usually won’t make or break your content. But readability definitely will.

Visual Hierarchy

A clear visual hierarchy can make your content MUCH easier to understand.

Visual hierarchy is the way your content is structured.

For example, on this page, you can see that we have a big title, headings, and smaller subheaders underneath some of the subheadings.

This helps readers understand how the topics and subtopics that you cover relate to each other.

Systematize and Scale

It’s one thing to write one amazing blog post.

But can you write 5? 50? How about 500?

In many ways, consistency is what pushes blogs, YouTube channels and podcasts to the top 1%.

That’s not to say that you need to publish a million posts to succeed with content marketing.

Instead, you want to publish great content on a consistent basis.

It can be once a week. Once a month. Or even one per quarter.

The amount of content that you put out doesn’t matter as much as sticking with it and staying consistent.

For example, when I first launched my blog, I published a new post every month no matter what.

Even though one per month is MUCH less than most other blogs push out, I stuck with this schedule for over 5 years.

Not only did I see traction right away (because I was focusing on quality over quantity), but the consistency has helped my blog’s traffic continue to grow.

Last year I realized that we had the resources to go from one post per month to two posts per month. Still not a lot. But it’s a rate that my team and I can stay consistent with over the long-term.

With that, here’s how to scale up your content marketing for the long haul.

Use Content Templates

Templates are the secret weapon that almost every marketer uses to bang out high-quality content on a consistent basis.

Templates are great because you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you want to write a new blog post or film a YouTube video.

Instead, all you need to do is come up with a topic, whip open a template, and fill in the blanks.

Let me explain what I mean with an example.

One of my go-to templates is called “Tools of the Trade”.

It’s basically a list of tools, strategies or resources that I personally find helpful.

So whenever I want to write anything related to tools, I use this template as my base. For example, I recently wanted to write a post about the best free SEO tools on the market right now.

Thanks to my “Tools of the Trade” template, I was able to bang out this post in a few hours.

Even though that post didn’t take much time to put together, it’s performed great for me.

In fact, that page brings in over 2,000 visitors every month.

Scale With a Team

If you’re just starting out with content marketing, chances are you have one person on your team that finds topics, does keyword research, writes the post, and edits it before it goes live.

But to grow and scale, you need multiple people working on every piece of content that you create.

For example, a single post on our blog is the result of at least 5 people:

  1. A freelancer we work with finds topics and keywords
  2. Someone else (me) writes the post
  3. A designer takes screenshots and creates visuals
  4. Our admin proofreads the post for spelling and grammar
  5. Our CTO does final quality control on the post before it goes live

This definitely speeds things up. But it also adds a lot of complexity. Instead of one person doing everything, communication needs to flow between editing, design, coding and writing.

Scale Promotion

Content promotion might be the most underrated part of the content marketing process.

It’s tricky to scale promotion (especially outreach). But it’s doable.

The key is to have a process in place that anyone on your team can follow.

For example, our #1 promotional channel is our email newsletter.

From sending out hundreds of newsletters, we don’t need to wonder what to write, what to send and when to send it.

We have a process for creating newsletter content, spell checking, and scheduling it to go out at the right time.

Which helps our open rates stay high even as our email list grows.

This is just one example. You can also create processes for posting content on LinkedIn, sending out tweets, finding journalists, networking with bloggers, and reaching out to influencers.

Focus on Key Metrics

How do you know if all this valuable content that you’re putting out is actually working?

It’s easy: focus on these 4 key metrics.

Website Traffic

For many folks, the main goal of content marketing is to drive traffic to their website.

So if your content isn’t bringing people to your site, something isn’t working.

Maybe your topics aren’t hitting home with your audience. Maybe your content is hard to read.

It’s impossible to say without digging deep into your entire content marketing process.

But in general, you want to see traffic start to increase within 3 months of starting a new content marketing campaign.

Content can take months or years to fully pay off. But you should start to see SOME traffic come in somewhat early on.

If you do, that’s a sign that things are working.

For example, when I launched my blog, traffic was flat at first.

Which is normal.

But, as you can see, after a few months of regularly publishing and promoting my content, traffic started to move in the right direction.

Email Subscribers

It’s one thing to bring a bunch of people to your website. But if those folks just scan your content and bounce, your content didn’t do its job.

On the other hand, like we talked about earlier, Top of the Funnel content probably isn’t going to convert right away.

Enter: the email list.

Building your email list is KEY.

That’s because your email list gives you an opportunity to communicate with your audience… even after they’ve left your website.

So I recommend adding signup forms to your site. And if you see people signing up for your email newsletter, you can consider that a really good sign.

New Customers

This is the uber metric that helps you figure out if your content is working over the long-term.

The only tricky part is that it’s hard to tie your content marketing efforts to sales. Yes, there are tools out there (like Google Analytics) that can help you draw a line between a specific post and a new customer.

But in reality, most customer journeys are messy, complicated and hard to track.

Someone might first watch one of your YouTube videos. Then visit your blog. Then, a few days later, sign up for your newsletter at work. And a few days later, they open your email on their phone.

And a few weeks after that, they make a purchase.

What content do you attribute that sale to? The YouTube video? The newsletter? It’s impossible to say.

So instead of complicated attribution models, I prefer to ask people why they bought.

For example, when I asked a recent group of customers what pushed them to invest in one of our programs, I noticed a lot of them cited out video content.

Which told us that our video content was directly leading to sales.

Conclusion

I hope this guide not only answered the question: “what is content marketing?”, but helped you get started with it.

Content marketing definitely takes time to kick in.

But when it does, you can find yourself with more traffic, leads and customers. Which is why it’s such a popular marketing channel.

With all that said: I recommend focusing on the basics at first. Focus on creating content for your audience. Create world-class content that’s head and shoulders above what’s out there. And be consistent.

Then, once you master the fundamentals, start experimenting on search engine optimization, scaling up and new content formats (like live video).