With an ever-growing plethora of digital marketing channels, there’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to market your business.
There’s also no shortage of marketers jumping up and down, frantically trying to get noticed by online audiences, who are themselves frantically trying to stay afloat in a sea of information overload.
As attention spans get shorter and resistance to traditional advertising increases, more brands have turned to content marketing as a way to show off their subject matter expertise and hopefully win new customers.
But how do you create content that actually accomplishes your goals? And how do you get your arms around the complex web of decisions that go into a content marketing plan?
The Content Marketing Institute tells us that good online content must be valuable, relevant, and consistent — to your audience.
An audience-first approach gives you a clear focal point that helps to simplify your content marketing process. It gives you three key advantages:
- It’s good for your customers and prospects.
- It’s good for Google.
- It’s good for your business.
Many businesses correctly recognize the importance of optimizing content for search engine algorithms, which combine a number of factors to determine how your pages will rank for different keywords.
As SEO expert and best-selling author Neil Patel reminds us, the mission of Google’s founders was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Patel goes on to explain that SEO becomes much less complicated “once you understand that people come first, before search algorithms.”
So in order to win with Google, you must first win with people. And that’s where an audience-first approach will help you.
An Audience-Centered Approach to Content Development
What should you write about? Here are two big questions to help you decide what content to create:
- What is your audience interested in?
- What are your own values and expertise?
Once you’ve answered these two questions, you want to look for the overlap between the interests of your audience and your own expertise:
To help you out, let’s briefly dig a little deeper into these two questions.
Question 1: What Is Your Audience Interested In?
Here are three “sub-questions” to help you identify valuable audience insights:
- Who is your audience?
- What do they care about?
- How do they like to receive their information?
Who is the audience for your content?
- Are you talking to consumers or business decision makers — or both?
- What is your geographic scope — local, regional, national, or international?
- What is the demographic profile of your audience?
- What is their identity? What is the essence of how they see themselves? How have they been socialized to see themselves and to interact with incoming stimuli from the outside world?
What do they care about? This question can be subdivided into topics directly related to your product or service, and other topics of interest to your audience.
Here are a few examples of product/service related topics that could serve as a basis for relevant, valuable audience-centered content:
- What questions, comments or complaints do you get most often from customers and prospects?
- What keywords related to your industry are people looking up on search engines?
- What is their level of prior knowledge on the topic?
- What do they get confused about?
- What common mistakes do people make when shopping for, purchasing, or using your product or service?
- What misperceptions do people have about what you do?
Remember, even your most valuable customers have a life outside of doing business with you. What other topics would interest them?
- What are their values and priorities?
- What do they find interesting, funny, or entertaining?
- What is their lifestyle? Favorite hobbies, music, sports and other leisure activities?
- Are there stories currently making headlines that could affect them?
- Are there things going on in the community they care about?
- Are there charitable causes or public issues that concern them?
- What balance of information and entertainment would they prefer to see from you?
You can also take an audience-first approach to content promotion — so it’s easy for folks to find what you’re creating. How do they like to receive their information?
- Is your content easy to access and consume on mobile and desktop devices?
- Is your content optimized for search engines?
- Do they subscribe to emails?
- What social media do they like to use? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Instagram? Snapchat? Pinterest? Something else?
- What other websites do they visit? You can promote your content on a pay-per-click basis using a service like Outbrain, which uses native advertising to feature branded content on popular websites including The Washington Post, ESPN, and Mashable.
Question 2: What Are Your Own Values and Expertise?
People want to do businesses with people like them. Look for things you have in common with your audience — who they are, what they care about, and how they like to get information.
- What common interests do you share with them?
- What questions are they asking that you can answer?
- What problems are they having that you can solve?
- What are they looking for that you can help them find?
There are several ways this audience-first approach will help you in the day-to-day rigors of creating content.
- Once you’ve identified a few key areas overlap, you’ll have the basis for creating relevant content that provides value for your audience on a consistent basis.
- You can use this key insight to develop a content marketing calendar for the next 12 months. Make sure the topics on your calendar match the two main criteria of audience interest and your expertise. Doing this will keep you on track to make sure you’re staying true to the needs of your audience and your own content marketing goals.
- When you find yourself confronting the inevitable periods of “writer’s block,” go back to your audience. Instead of asking “What clever play on words will make me look smart?” you should be asking “What information does my audience need to see?”
Keep your audience in mind when inviting feedback and assessing your content marketing results.
- Make it easy to like, share or comment on your content, both on your website and on social platforms.
- Learn the art of the “soft” call to action. While you want to avoid the old-school “buy now” tactics associated with traditional advertising, inviting readers to ask questions or request further information is a simple, low-pressure way to position yourself as a friendly resource instead of a pushy salesperson.
- Interpret your results from an audience-first perspective. If a particular blog post generates a healthy amount of likes, shares, comments, or leads, it means you probably did a great job of satisfying an audience need. If your results fall short of expectations, investigate how you could do better in the future. Do you need to focus on different topics? Use less confusing jargon? Do a better job of optimization and promotion?
What content is your audience looking for? How will you provide it for them? A simple, audience-first approach brings clarity and focus to your content marketing strategy.
Let us know your thoughts.