Content marketing has become a hot topic among search and social media marketers over the past year. According to the Junta42 2010 Content Marketing Spending Survey, content marketing now represents 33 percent of total marketing budgets with social media, e-newsletters, and blogs topping the list of tactics. In fact, Forrester Research reports that spending on B2B social media alone will approach $54 million by 2014.
The problem is, many of those marketers are not incorporating SEO, social media, and content marketing channels. While content is the common denominator with effective SEO and social media marketing, many online marketers don't have support or the resources for integration.
Persuading the right people in your organization to make marketing changes requires education. To that end, here is a five step model for a killer B2B content marketing strategy that effectively incorporates SEO and social media best practices.
Step 1: Buyer Personas
Content marketing is essentially connecting customers with relevant information in a way that provides mutual value for both customers and brands. While content informs, it also influences readers to the logical conclusion to buy – directly or indirectly.
The most effective content marketing efforts are thoughtful about understanding the people the brand is trying to engage. To do that, there are a few key questions that should be answered:
The answers to questions like these can help B2B marketers make important decisions about their content marketing strategy, social media channels of focus, and measurement via social monitoring and web analytics.
Creating personas or profiles of the brand's target customer groups helps guide editorial decisions, keyword research, promotion, social engagement, and, of course, goals and measurement.
Many companies segment their email or direct marketing lists according to key characteristics. Developing a search and social persona is not that different. Documenting ideal customer archetypes involves collecting data, aggregating, and analyzing it into profiles.
The first step is to collect data you already have on existing customers that exemplify ideal characteristics such as profitability, low support costs, referrals, and retention. Additional internal sources include web analytics data from brand websites to identify KPIs that lead to ideal customer acquisition. Social media monitoring and analytics data can also provide insight into ideal customer behaviors.
Additional tools include competitive search and social media research services, social media monitoring tools, and keyword research tools. You can also survey your customers to identify what social media and content sites they prefer.
Step 2: Search and Social Keywords
Driven by a desire to connect customers with the information they need to make B2B buying decisions, content marketers dedicate substantial resources to creating information and media that engage. Understanding target customer interests and the language they use to think about the problem/solution involved with your offering is the first step in content optimization.
Like consumers, B2B buyers discover new services through search engines. They also look for recommendations and discuss what they find via search on social networks, forums, and blogs. Search engine optimization best practices call for keyword research so that content can be optimized for what's relevant to customers and the language they actually use when searching for solutions.
Because B2B buyers are active and influenced by social content, it's important for B2B marketers to understand social keywords or topics as well as search keywords. What buyers search on Google and what they discuss on social networking or Q/A sites like Quora are not always the same.
SEO-focused keywords help inspire creation and optimization of content for discovery via search engines. Social media-focused keywords help guide the content and messaging approach on relevant social channels. This way, when B2B buyers search a category for solutions, they see "Brand 123" in a prominent position. When that buyer looks at social content like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, or video for the topic, Brand 123 appears there as well. This approach also intersects well with online PR efforts to gain editorial coverage according to keywords or topics of focus.
Step 3: Editorial Plan and Content Mapping
The implementation of a content strategy, personas, and search/social keywords is through the editorial plan. Brands are increasingly adopting best practices used by publishers to create engaging information and media for a specific type of audience.
The editorial plan covers any kind of content that tells the brand story to the customer segments being targeted. Such content plans factor in original website and blog content, curated content from other sources, repurposed content from inside the organization, and content published on other websites or other brand web properties.
The editorial plan also influences the content created for social media-specific purposes such as blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn forum posts, YouTube videos, etc.
In order to coordinate the connection between the buyer persona-guided editorial plan and the actual content, it should be mapped. SEO practitioners already do this with keywords and associate target keyword phrases with specific web pages or categories of pages. This is useful for making sure all target concepts are accounted for with on-page optimization and can be modified as content or target keywords change. If there is no content for a target keyword to be mapped to, then it's added to the content creation plan.
Mapping content according to buyer personas is very similar. Existing content is audited for ability to address the information needs of target customers across the buying cycle. If there are gaps, then new content is created to address those needs. In a coordinated social SEO effort, the editorial plan and content mapping process occurs first, then the SEO audit.
Step 4: Content Promotion
"Build it and they will come." It's a well-known and often overused quote. There's a reason for that: it's true!
With content marketing, great content is the beginning not the end objective. An effective content marketing strategy includes information about target buyer personas, search keywords and social topics, an editorial plan, and a plan for promoting all the high-quality content being created. Today's Internet and social web are full of information overload. Buyers can easily be distracted and so it's important to stand out and stay connected.
There are three basic reasons for promoting great content:
A particularly effective model for coordinated social SEO and content promotion is a hub and spoke. Depending on your content strategy and target audience, the hub might be a resource center, a blog, Facebook fan page, YouTube channel, or a website. The spokes are distribution and promotion channels leading to offsite networks or communities.
Understanding the communities and involving them in both content development and promotion keeps topics fresh and relevant as well as interesting for the community to promote to others.
Step 5: Mining Web and Social Analytics
As B2B marketers implement a coordinated social SEO and content marketing program, there's a cyclical publishing, promotion, analysis, and improvement process that can boost effectiveness.
It starts by creating keyword-optimized content and promoting it to relevant channels. As the brand's content gets noticed, it is shared and voted on and awareness of the brand as a source of useful information on the desired topics grows. At the same time, a persistent effort is made to grow social network connections. Increased exposure of brand-authored content will attract more subscribers, fans, friends, followers, and links. Increased links and social exposure will attract even more search, link, and social traffic. Increased web traffic and community engagement actions will help the brand research, develop, and further grow social networks for content and SEO. With the information gained from community data, editorial optimization plans can be refined for more effective content creation, optimization, and promotion.
Hopefully, this five-step model will provide you inspiration or fuel to start incorporating social media and SEO in your B2B content marketing. You'll reach more customers where they're looking across the customer lifecycle and inspire more effective engagement, revenue, and retention outcomes.
This column was originally published in SES Magazine, May 2011.
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Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in helping companies grow online business and community with an "Optimize and Socialize" approach to content marketing. Odden has consulted for hundreds of B2B clients over the past 14 years including: McKesson, Marketo, PRWeb, and StrongMail. He's been cited by The Economist, BtoB Magazine, and Advertising Age for his online marketing expertise and publishes one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web: Online Marketing Blog, ranked the No. 1 content marketing blog three times by Junta42. Odden speaks on the intersection of search and content marketing, PR, and social media at conferences internationally and is the author of "Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing."
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