6 Tips for Sequencing Your Marketing Content

Are you familiar with the term content sequencing? If not, you’re probably not alone. It’s a concept I’ve discussed with my family members who are teachers, usually in the same sentence as “pedagogy.” Educators define content sequencing as “the process of determining the most appropriate pathway for instruction, activity, and evaluation to best address learning objectives.” Essentially, it describes a way to educate within a progressive learning environment.

The concept of content sequencing for digital marketing practices has been around for a few years but has yet to be widely adopted. Content sequencing within the scope of digital marketing can be described like this:

  • A process of distributing digital content in a scalable manner, which leads a consumer through a highly engaged experience with progressively branded messaging.

Content is delivered in a meaningful series of targeted nodes, taking consumers through a journey that can include surfacing first-party and curated content. The end game for marketers is to sell items and convert leads; however, one important objective for content sequencing (also an objective for academia) is to educate with the goal of helping consumers learn to associate value with our brand.

Generally speaking, here’s one sequence in which it could work:

  1. A consumer first becomes aware of the brand or product announcement through a third-party article, social media share, display/banner ad, press release, or email.
  2. Next, a consumer clicks an organic listing or PPC ad that is relevant to their intent (find a solution, learn more, etc.).
  3. Brand-sponsored thought leadership or marketing content is served, which targets (hopefully through structured authoring) the user’s intent. Alternatively, another display ad is shown through retargeting based on a cookie placed on the first visit.
  4. A click-through from that page serves additional category information with links to brand-relevant assets such as a white paper or case study to download, ideally through a lead generation (if B2B) form to gather additional user information.
  5. Calls to action (CTAs) within brand-relevant assets (white papers) or in-product messaging with a freemium version serve to upsell additional features and benefits.
  6. These assets drive deeper engagement with the brand via the website or within the product.
  7. The consumer upgrades to a paid product (if B2C), is contacted by sales (if B2B), or otherwise stays engaged with the brand through social media or further thought leadership pieces.

Obviously this is just one example of a customer’s journey. Some will be shorter, others longer. Few paths will be linear or predictable like this. Those middle steps of content marketing are critical points of engagement with your customer to enhance your brand’s strength and relevance. As semantic Web optimization becomes the norm, sequencing may have a big impact on search marketing. Deployment of diverse yet consistent messaging through structured authoring provides search engines with a robust set of pages that point to our brand. This, in turn, increases visibility. As we optimize for post-Hummingbird search, we stand to improve visibility by deploying content sequencing.

As with any content marketing initiative, a sequencing campaign should be filled with evergreen content, content that provides value, supports buying decisions, makes offers, and engages our customers. Third-party content is allowable, but should be used to support a buying decision, not simply to connect our brand to thought leadership (although that is important).

I’ve learned six essential truths about making content sequencing effective, and I want to share them with you:

1. Start With Data

To be effective at sequencing, analytics are essential. As I’ve shared before, there are plenty of dashboards that provide insight into consumer behavior, which allows us to define who, what, where, when, and how our content sequencing will be deployed. We need to cull through the data to find opportunities for success.

2. Use Content to Drive Traffic to Specific Owned Media

By now, we know the primary objective of search marketing is to drive traffic to our digital assets. Sequencing requires a sharper focus on where we move consumers. Assets must provide answers to specific questions/needs. But with content sequencing, our consumer is moved on a path that fulfills his interest/curiosity/desire/whatever-he-is-searching-for-in-that-moment with a scalable continuum of brand-related content. Instead of routing traffic to brand-related pages from first touch point, we share knowledge from inside and outside the enterprise. Ultimately, the assets we deploy must fulfill a progression for the consumer – one which, of course, leads to a sustained customer relationship.

3. Deploy Earned Media Within the Sequence

When I say “we share knowledge from inside and outside the enterprise,” I’m talking about earned media. One of our sharing strategies is to earn media. Articles here on ClickZ reach a broader audience than thought leadership I publish on our corporate blog. Content streamed through earned media accomplishes two objectives:

  • Provides a media mix within the sequence, which helps with establishing a thought leadership position
  • Presents an opportunity to connect along the sequence with new consumers 

Bottom line: Sequencing should incorporate earned media because it helps with visibility. And search visibility is one outcome we’re aiming for.

4. Begin Each Campaign Without Heavy Brand Placement

Focusing brand identity during the initial stage of a content sequencing campaign is important. Consumers have to feel as though they can trust the information being provided as well as trust the source that served it. Optimally, we want to approach a prospective customer as a sponsor or publisher of the resource being viewed.
As the sequence scales, more brand identification may be deployed. Consumers should begin to connect our brand with their journey during the intermediate stage. Once engagement with our content has progressed to a certain point, then we drive consumers to owned media.

5. Re-Engage During the Journey

We all lose visitors. We all have engagement and customer churn. Even during a sequencing campaign, drop-off happens. However, we have the ability to reconnect and re-engage the sequencing process through ads, email, social, and direct or site search. Brands should deploy enough unique content and brand touch points to become both visible (to spiders) and valuable (to consumers) so re-engagement can occur. The soft goal throughout all touch points is to contribute to a positive user experience.

Mobile, in my opinion, is now an even more important channel to focus on for re-engagement. So many are choosing to research on smartphones and tablets that marketers must keep in mind mobile, even if they don’t have a specific mobile sequencing strategy.

6. Don’t Saturate, But Deploy Multiple Channels

We need to be connected with prospects at different times, through multiple devices. That may be commonly understood among digital marketers. But I’ve got to stress that – for search marketers – mobile is essential to an effective sequencing campaign. Consumers now often start their journey through their smartphones or tablets, supplementing mobile primarily with desktop/laptop search activities. Any sequencing campaigns we deploy must incorporate all things mobile – ads, app store optimization, SERP visibility, and site configuration.

In fact, we need to combine outbound and inbound channels when it’s possible. The opportunities to capture attention exist ubiquitously. We can move a consumer along with a billboard he/she sees while viewing a mobile ad at the same time – many retail brands are experimenting with these shared touch points. So it is with content sequencing; digital and analog media should be used to drive a sequenced campaign.

But don’t get too over-optimized on sequencing campaigns, though. While sequencing may be integral to strong content marketing, consumers reach a threshold and saturation point. Sequence streams should be practically determined, based upon what the analytics show.

Deployment of a sequenced content delivery strategy provides a great opportunity to:

  • strengthen brand advocacy
  • broaden consumer awareness
  • improve SEO
  • determine attribution influences
  • sharpen analytics practices
  • create stronger relationships with customers

Content sequencing can really improve your digital and content marketing. Using data, you can assess the brand messaging and thought leadership that appeals most to your ideal customers. The goal is to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness by which customers are led to a conversion.

Image via Shutterstock.

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