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1. Define Your Content Marketing GoalBefore you look at what you're going to create, you need to answer why you're making it.All content marketing starts with a goal. How are you going to measure the success of your campaign? Is it with traffic? New subscribers? App downloads? Conversions? Social shares and engagement? Video views? Podcast downloads? Sales?Best-selling author, prolific marketer and entrepreneur Seth Godin explains the importance of understanding your why early on."You have the freedom to make these choices at the beginning when they're free, fast and easy. Not later on when you've made commitments to other people and yourself."It's easy to get caught up in all the tactics of content marketing, but without a unifying strategy--a strong why, no matter what you create, it will fall flat.Understanding your goal early on will guide other important decisions as you develop your content marketing strategy. Such as, what are we making? And where are we going to distribute our content? As Godin explains, your strategy is like building a ship. You need to know where it's going to sail before you can start nailing planks of wood together.As Godin emphasizes, "Matching what you build to where you put it is more important than what you build in the first place. That's why we need to start by understanding what is this for?"When I'm brought on to build out a content marketing strategy for one of my clients, whether it's a freelance gig or through my side project, Pro Content Marketer, we always start in the exact same place--with first getting a freelance contract in place, then defining an ultimate goal and backing into smaller mini-wins that ladder up to the bigger picture achievement.Most often with content marketing, that ultimate goal is email signups or free trial signups.Essentially, attracting new readers to your blog (content), then converting them into email subscribers who can later be warmed into paying customers as the rest of the marketing team works to build relationships with subscribers.Once you have this larger goal in place, it's easier to determine--based on your average conversion rates--how many readers or listeners, viewers, users, you need to attract to the content you're publishing, in order to hit your signup goal.The number of people you need to bring to your blog is your traffic goal.And in order to bring in enough of the right traffic to hit your conversion rates, you'll need to promote your content--landing syndications to publications, getting mentions in major industry blogs, having influencers share with their followers, and so on down the line.It's not an exact science per say, but the more you execute, build a portfolio of content and promote it, the more you'll see what your baseline returns on content marketing are and you can make tweaks & experiment moving forward.2. Research and Understand Your AudienceOnce you have a clear connection to why you're making content, the next step in building out your content marketing is to understand exactly who is going to see, hear, or watch the content you create.Effective content is not produced in a vacuum from a list of topics you personally want to write or talk about, it's made out in the open with the involvement, feedback, and direction of your audience. The best content marketing strategy is designed to answer the most pressing questions your target audience has--to educate and transform them.However, the only way that your content will connect enough with people to have them share it and help you reach your goals is for you to speak directly to them. You need to have empathy and understanding for their situation.Andrea Goulet, founder of BrandVox, breaks down the process of defining your audience better than anyone I've ever seen--in her Skillshare class Become a Better Blogger.The first step is to understand the demographics and psychographics of your ideal audience.Demographics are the quantitative traits, or things you can really dig into and measure. Think age, gender, location, job title, etc. For example, you might say you want your content marketing to speak to executives aged 30-45, or 20-something job seekers just out of college.Psychographics are the things we can't measure. Attributes like attitude, belief systems, values, and interests. So in our executive example, we could go a step further and say that our content speaks to executives who want to take their business to the next level but can't find a way. Or maybe that they believe in hard work and doing the right thing and value family and strong morals.Creating Your Audience PersonasNow, let's talk about audience personas--the fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. These personas are constructed with the goal of internalizing who your ideal customer is, and gives you an idea of how to relate to these people as real humans. For each of the audience personas you're creating, write out their (demographic and psychographic) attributes on a bulleted list.Next, you want to visualize exactly who this person is. Goulet suggests using a stock photography site like Unsplash or Pexels to find a photo of the person you've just described. It might seem a bit silly, but this will seriously help solidify your vision and create more of a connection between you and your ideal audience.Lastly, you want to take that photo, the bulleted list and write a story about them in paragraph form, that really describes the environment and the feelings that your persona lives in. Give them a name and describe their day-to-day activities.How does your content not only fit in, but get found and recognized by this person?Are they searching for it on Google or do they use community sites like Quora or Reddit to source answers & ideas?Are they heavy Facebook users or do they spend most of the time on apps like Snapchat?Maybe they don't spend much time online at all, and prefer attending in-person events, industry conferences, group discussions?Be present where your audience already exists.These are all critical questions to address during your early days of your content marketing, so that you can maximize your opportunities for getting your content in front of your ideal audience--where they're already spending their time. This is also a core tenant of the advice I've gleaned from some of the best business books I've gotten to read over the years.Also, it's important to remember that you can have more than one audience.While you don't want your ideal audience to be too broad and diverse, especially in the early days of your business (readers might get confused about who your solution is for). However, as long as you understand who your audience is and go through this step you can create great content for them.3. Set Up Your Blog (If You Don't Have One Already)It's time to move from the tactical to the technical part of your content marketing.If you haven't set up a blog or found a place to host the content you're going to create, now is the time. The good news? You've got options.Luckily, there are tons of great (and easy) options for setting up your own website that go from ready-to-use platforms to fully customizable templates.But before we start, we need to answer an age-old question for content producers. Do you want to build your own platform, or use someone else's?What I mean is, do you want to build your own blog on a WordPress-powered blog (which I personally do and recommend), through a ready-to-go content management system like Squarespace, or do you want to simply host your content on an external domain like Medium (writing), YouTube (video), or Apple (Podcasts)?The bad news? There are pros and cons to each of these avenues.While building your own site gives you the flexibility and freedom to make it exactly how you want, it also means a more upfront and ongoing time investment and potential development costs. You're also starting with no audience, which can make it tough to get your content noticed.On the other hand, using a pre-existing platform like Medium, YouTube, and Apple Podcasts for publishing your content means less customization, but easier startup costs (especially when it comes to the time investment if you've never used Wordpress before). This route also means instant access to an audience that's already present, and actively looking for content.However attractive that sounds though, keep in mind that you're not in control of what that platform does in the future, which means they could get purchased, hacked, change their policies or even shut down any day they choose.In the end, the choice is yours.However, I'm personally biased towards starting from your own blog domain from day one--hence why I always recommend new startups to kick their content off with a Wordpress-powered blog.4. Update Your Current Content (If You've Already Been Publishing)There's never a bad time to re-evaluate your content marketing and shift gears if something isn't working.If you've already been writing or producing other types of content for a little while, now is a great time to bring your published content into the style of your new content marketing approach.To do this, you need to know exactly what kind of content 'types' you're going to produce.Now, we're not talking just about the format--whether that's blog posts, videos or podcasts--but rather which topics are you going to produce on a consistent basis?BrandVox founder Andrea Goulet calls these 'Content Pillars'--topics that'll be the foundation of your blog.For example, if you're building a finance blog, your core content pillars might be:Personal finance tips and tricksInterviews and stories about people who found financial freedomIndustry news and what it means for youFinance basicsWith these pillars in place, you'll want to make sure you're hitting 3 key content types, which Goulet calls the 3 E's.Engagement: Content that's meant to start a conversation, like your own opinion on a popular topic.Evergreen: Content that is based around key terms for your business and that you can refer back to and update for years to come.Events: Content around a particular event or occurrence, like some big piece of news or industry event.If you have content already published, go through it and see if it fits into your new content marketing direction. Does it speak to your audience and work towards your goals? If not, can you update it or change it or should you scrap it altogether?5. Start Building an Email List and Know How You're Going to Use ItWhatever content you're creating, you want to put it in front of the right people.But before we get into distribution, leveraging social media and all of that, we need to talk about the most important piece of your content distribution puzzle: Email.Email lets you communicate directly to your subscribers and gets you into their inboxes--where so many of us spend countless hours each week. Starting early with list-building is a great way to amplify the content you're creating.Which tools do you need?An email service provider (or, ESP) allows you to send emails, build and maintain your subscriber list, and check reports and analytics on how your campaigns are doing. An ESP will also make sure your emails stay out of spam folders, keep your list healthy and in check, and make sure you're adhering to all relevant laws around emails.There are lots of options, but some of the most popular ones for marketers--and also happen to have lower startup costs are:MailChimp (they have a forever free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers)ConvertKit (what I personally use)Campaign MonitorAWeberActiveCampaignLike any "tool" decision, it can always be changed or undone if it's not working out after a month, and each of these ESPs do a great job of making migration easy.My advice? Choose the cheapest option that gives you the bare minimum functionality you need in order to achieve your email goals and move on. You can always switch things up and move over to a tool with more options in the future.What is the goal of your emails?Your strategy for email marketing needs to relate back to your business goals.What you're trying to accomplish for your business over the next couple of weeks or months should really dictate what you're doing in your email campaigns and newsletters.Some of the goals you could be trying to hit with your email strategy could be brand awareness, awareness about your products, loyalty to your company and your brand, as well as driving people to your website to consume your content.What content should your emails include?The content you're creating for your blog is a great place to start with what you could send to your email subscriber list. Take that content and use parts of it to create email campaigns that'll drive people back to your blog to read the rest of your post, watch the full video or listen to the entire podcast episode.This is exactly what I do with my own weekly (sometimes twice weekly) email newsletter. I push out a preview of the week's new podcast episode and new blog posts when they're published, so that my subscribers can dig into the full piece of content (if it's a match for what they need at the moment).What types of emails should you send?There are 3 main types of emails you can send to your list, in a way that supports your content marketing goals:General campaigns and newsletters: These are sent to your full list. They're great when you're just starting out and your list isn't really huge (as you know that pretty much everyone on the list wants to hear about your company and the content you're releasing).Communication that gets sent to targeted segments on your list: As you grow, you'll want to make sure you're sending the right messages to the right groups of people on your list. Your ESP should let you select segments based on demographic information or what links they've clicked on in the past, so you can send more targeted campaigns.Automated messaging: These are messages you're going to send out to multiple people over time. Think welcome emails, delivering an e-course, or lists of your top content.How often should I send emails to my list?There are no hard and fast rules about sending once a week or once a month. Rather, how often you send is going to depend on how much time you have to spend on email and how often you have news or valuable new content to share.As you're just getting started, aim for 1 email a month. You want to be consistent and talking to your subscribers as often as you can without overwhelming them. And you also don't want to go 4, 5, or 6 months without them hearing from you, because they're likely to forget how they even got onto your email list and your chances of getting marked as spam increase significantly.6. Brainstorm Ideas and Do Keyword ResearchAlright, at this point we know our why we're creating content and who our audience is.We have a blog setup and our email service provider is ready to go. Now, it's finally time to talk about the actual content you're going to create and how it aligns with your content marketing goals.You probably have a ton of ideas for posts you can write or videos you can film at this point. However, that initial excitement can wear off quickly when other things get in the way.For your content marketing to be successful, you need to make sure you stay strategic in what you're creating and avoid falling into the trap of simply reacting.Great marketers set their own agenda, so you'll need to create a content marketing editorial calendar that isn't reactionary. Rather, one that is filled with repeatable content that is directly tied to your business goals.Your pillar posts or content types we discussed earlier will help tell you the kinds of posts you're going to write, but what about the actual specific content of each?For this, we turn to keyword research. Here's how Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, explains the basics of using keyword research:"When you're thinking about your audience, we want to take a look at the folks we know are in the group we want to target and ask 'what are they searching for today that they can't successfully find or aren't being well exposed to?'"Once you start thinking about your audience's needs, Rand offers a 5-step process for coming up with the specific topics and keywords your audience will be looking for. This will be the foundation of your content marketing approach.Brainstorm topics and terms: Start by writing down as many ideas of terms or topics your audience is interested in. It's good to involve people who work directly with your users at this point, like a customer service or sales rep.Use a keyword research tool to gather results: Now, it's time to plug those terms into a tool like Google's Keyword Planner, Moz, http://keywordtool.io or any other to see what comes up.Expand and refine your list: Take that big list and refine or group them together. What looks good? What doesn't make sense to your business goals?Build a spreadsheet and prioritize terms: Now, it's time to get organized. Build a spreadsheet with the data you got in your tool, such as keyword, estimated search volume, difficulty and opportunity and assign a priority to each one. Which is most important to your business?Outline content that hits the 3 key needs: Take your top terms and outline content that will serve your goals, the user's needs, and the keyword targeting. This is the trifecta of killer, SEO-friendly content.Rand's final piece of advice? Make sure you're not just aiming to match the content you see ranking #1, but blowing it out of the water:He elaborates, "What's the thing where when you read the first few search results you say, 'This is great, but I wish they...'. If you have great answers to that, don't ask 'how do we make something as good as this?' but say 'how do we make something 10X better than any of these?" That's the bar that's been set because it's so competitive to try to rank for terms today."7. Decide Which Format of Content You Want to ProduceBlog posts, videos, podcasts, infographics--they all have their place in your content strategy and it's up to you how you use them. What's non-negotiable, however, is that they tell a story.As Seth Godin says, "Marketing is the act of telling a story to people who want to hear it. And making that story so vivid and true that the people who hear it want to tell other people."To hit that mark, Godin says there are 4 qualities your content needs to have:Emotion: What emotion do we want people to feel?Change: How are you changing people with your product or content? Does that emotion change them in a way that helps your brand?Alert: Once you're changed someone, how do you build the privilege of being able to tell them when you have something new?Share: How can you get people to tell each other?With that in mind, let's look at the specifics of putting together some of the most popular content formats: blog posts, videos, and podcasts.Blogging as content marketing.Blog posts are a great place to start with your content marketing, as they have the lowest barrier to entry, by far. You don't need a designer or special equipment. Just start writing and you're ready to go.Here's how Single Grain CEO Eric Siu explains how to build a blog post.Start with an outline: Start with just a skeleton of what you want to say. This means having a few lines for your intro and why people should care about your topic, as well as outlining the main points or sub-headers you're going to use throughout the post. Read through this. Does it make sense? Does your outline quickly answer What, Why, How and Where?Add the meat: These are the details, the statistics, quotes, images, or case studies. If you're making claims in your post you need to back it up. Use Google to find statistics around your topic. And when you link out to studies or references, these are great people to reach out to later on when you're distributing your content.One-up the competition: At this point you've got a good post, but not a great one. Take the next step and see what the competition is doing. What's the #1 result for your topic and how can you make yours better? Can you go more in-depth? Add more images or resources?Write a great headline: The last, and almost most important part of writing is your headline. You only click on things that catch your eye when you're scrolling through social media, and your audience is the same. There are great resources on writing headlines on Copyblogger and Quicksprout.Add an effective featured image: People love images and adding a featured image before the post has been shown to give you 18% more clicks, 89% more favorites, and 150% more retweets on Twitter alone. Check out sites like Unsplash for better-than-stock photos and then use a tool like Canva to add extra elements like text or icons.Video as content marketing.According to recent research, 51% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI while social video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined.However, making videos can seem like a monumental task if you're used to watching the highly-produced content from people like Gary Veynerchuk that have entire teams dedicated to producing his content.You need specialized gear, a studio, lighting, sound, right? Not exactly.If you've watched cooking recipes or DIY How-to videos online, you know how simple an engaging video can be to create. Present what you're going to make, the ingredients, process, and end result, all in 60 seconds or less.Keep it short: Under 60 seconds at the most. If you can keep it under 30 seconds you're killing it!Have a plan: Think about your ingredients or props you need or how you're going to show the stepsUse hand signals to communicate to your users: The majority of videos are watched without sound, so think of other ways to communicate what the user needs to know.Use your tools: Many use a Hyperlapse tool, Box to store our videos, and a video stand, which you can create with something as simple as two stacks of books with a plank across. Place your camera on the edge of the plank and fire up your camera app. You can set a 'stage' for where you're filming by taping it out on the table.Gather your resources: Either bring them in one at a time or have them all laid out in your center stage.Start with a compelling image: Either an impressive 'finished product' to arouse interest, or some unconventional ingredients.Don't worry about it being perfect: DIY videos go viral every day. If you can tell a compelling story in a short amount of time, it doesn't matter if you shot it on your iPhone or a professional camera.Podcasting as content marketing.Podcasts are super hot right now as a content format, and for good reason--it can fuel your content marketing with relatively low effort compared to writing massive blog posts like this one.Plus, with how busy your audience is, giving them a way to passively listen to your content is fantastic for lowering the barrier of entry. However, like video, you're probably thinking you need all sorts of specialized gear and skills.And while yes, audio is a whole other beast, you can get started with just a little bit of effort.Pick your topic or niche: If you already know your audience and your topic, this should be a no brainer. However, you'll want to find some specific niche of your topic to get people interested. There are currently over 100,000 podcast shows out there, so get specific! A few tools to help you research niches are cast.market (a research page for podcasts), iTunes charts (to see what's popular and where there are gaps) or even Google Trends. For my podcast, I chose the topic of side hustle ideas because that's been a consistent theme on my blog for the past several years, and it's been the cohesive topic that bonds just about everything I write about together--so it made sense to talk about it on my show.Gather your tools: A basic podcasting setup consists of a microphone and software for recording your voice. This can range from as simple as your built-in mic (which I don't recommend due to the poor sound quality) to an external USB mic, audio interface, and professional recording software. Personally, I use an ATR2100 USB Microphone that sounds great, and you can pick up on Amazon for around $65. It's super affordable, has awesome audio quality for the price, and is small & portable which makes it perfect for taking on-the-go.Find your guests (or outline your own episodes): If you're doing an interview-style show (like mine), you'll now want to start getting some guests involved. You can use your existing social network to reach out to people you already know or are connected with on Twitter or Facebook. You can also head to Medium or Amazon to find authors or experts on topics specific to your niche. Once you've gathered a list, put together a template outreach email (as you'll be doing this over and over) that's short and clear with expectations. Tell them who you are, what your podcast is about, and what you're asking of them.Edit your podcast: Audio editing is a form of art. Luckily, there are tons of affordable options for hiring a sound engineer or podcast producer (like mine) to stitch your episodes together. To start, all you really need is 4 files: your main interview, introduction, outro, and jingle/music. Next, upload these files to Google Drive or Dropbox.Upload and promote: Congrats! You now have a podcast episode that's ready to be uploaded to iTunes, SoundCloud, or anywhere else and promoted alongside the rest of your content. Be sure to hit your guests with some copy & paste social copy that they can use to promote their episode, and it helps immensely if you have visually appealing graphics to go along with it.8. Outline Which Tactics You're Going to Experiment WithNow that you've got your content together, how are you going to promote or distribute it? You have to be productive with your marketing efforts, because if no one sees, listens, or reads the content you've put so much time into creating, was it even worth writing it in the first place?Find your "competition-free content."With so much competition in the content and social media spaces, CoSchedule's Garrett Moon says it's important to find your 'blue ocean' opportunities--places where you're not fighting with existing markets and can do your best work."How can you create content that's free from your competition, so that what you're creating stands out and is actually impactful and meaningful?"One example he gives is Groove--the help desk software--who decided to shut down their already successful blog to focus on something only they could talk about: their numbers, metrics and own startup story.They went from producing the 'me-too' content that everyone is creating, to something that is unique and have been rewarded with massive increases in traffic and users.This content marketing focuses on utilizing their core competencies, but here's how you can find those same kinds of opportunities within your own business:Observe your competitors: What are they doing, where are they publishing, and how are they using email? Understand what your customers are already seeing.Search relevant topics on Google: Look at the top 10 results and see what's there. How long is the content. What images are being used? What's consistent or stands out?Ask yourself: What are you and your team really good at? What are the patterns that your competition are falling into that you can disrupt? Are there people in your audience that you aren't serving? What have you created that you're the most proud of?From these 3 steps, you should be able to start seeing opportunities where you can excel that aren't already crammed with competition.Prioritize 10x opportunities.Another tactic that's crucial to content marketing is to always prioritize the highest impact content. Moon calls this the 10X vs 10% test. Which opportunities could potentially provide 10 times the growth to your audience size, traffic, or subscribers, versus just 10%?To do this, there's another simple 3-step process:Dump all your ideas onto a board. There's no bad ideas here, just let it all out.Bring in the rest of your team to help. Identify all of the real 10X opportunities and put them in one column.Rank the difficulty of your 10X opportunities on a scale of 1-3. If you have a 10X opportunity with only a level 1 difficulty, you should jump on that right away and prioritize it within your content marketing strategy.At this point, you know what you should be focusing the most on. But remember, your 10% ideas aren't bad so don't throw them out. There could be a time in the future when they do become a higher return activity.They just don't have the same potential impact today--and thus should be a lower priority in your overall content marketing strategy right now. Regularly revisit your idea board to re-evaluate priorities and stay on your toes.9. Use Social Media to Promote Your ContentIt's pretty much impossible these days to separate your content marketing strategy from your social media strategy.As Gary Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia says: "I love social media because it sells shit."Social media has become an integral part of getting your content in front of the right people. But you need to do more than just post to Facebook and Twitter once or twice. Gary's strategy is called jab, jab, jab, right hook and is some of the best overall sales advice I've ever received."My social media strategy is to give as much value as possible that you basically guilt people into buying what you're selling. So when you finally ask them to buy what you're selling, they do."What this comes down to is not simply talking about your content and asking people to click a link or subscribe to your newsletter. Instead, you need to show that you're a trustworthy source of educational resources and earn their attention for when you do ask for something in return.At the core of your content marketing needs to be the belief that it's a long-term (lifetime) investment in building your worth.Moving from the big picture of social media to the actual aspect of building posts, Brian Peters, a digital marketing strategist at Buffer, and fellow content marketer, explains his process too:Find your voice: What are the words and graphics and visuals that you're going to post? Are you going to be quirky like MailChimp or more buttoned up like IBM or Cisco?Choose what platforms you're going to use: When you're just starting out you simply can't and shouldn't be on every platform. Pick what makes the most sense for your brand and where your audience is more likely to hang out. Does that mean Facebook or Snapchat?Generate platform-specific content: You can both create original content from your blog posts or other content, or curate other people's content like relevant links or videos. Both have their place and should be a part of your strategy. Every platform has its own nuances and subtleties to how they get used and people share.Set up your social media 'stack': What tools are you going to use to support your social media strategy? Peters suggests Trello for planning posts in advance and making sure you have all the content you need. Canva and Pablo for making graphics. And Buffer or Hootsuite for scheduling posts to go out at the right times.10. Use Paid Ads to Get Extra Eyes on Your ContentThese days, a lot of social media platforms are moving to a 'pay to play' model. Meaning, even if you have a huge following and great engagement, you've got to pony up some ad dollars to get your content seen by everyone.When you're just starting out and building a new content strategy it's probably a little scary to invest in paid ads. More than $72 billion was spent on social ads in 2016 alone, with that number expected to rise to $113 billion by 2020.But, you don't have to throw huge chunks of cash at social media to get a return (as Buffer explains). Instead, $5 is all you need to start experimenting, especially with channels like Facebook Ads.Define your goals: Paid ads all come down to working people from the top of your marketing funnel, where they haven't heard of your brand, through to the middle and finally the bottom where you ask for the sale and they hopefully become a customers. So, start by asking yourself, who is my audience and what is my goal with them? Is it to run an awareness campaign for your top of funnel audience and build your brand awareness? Or, are you going after people who already know who you are and asking them to click through to a blog post or to a landing page?Targeting: Next, you need to decide who is going to see your ad. As Peters explains, targeting is the whole reason social media marketing works as well as it does: "Targeting capabilities are at an unprecedented level. Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest give you an incredible wealth of information about your customers, which let you create highly targeted ads that are tailored to our audience."Budgeting: As we said before, you don't need a big budget to be successful with social media advertising. In fact, you can start with as little as $5 a day. When you're starting with a small budget, you want to focus on your top of funnel audience, as they're cheaper to get in front of. You're not asking for a sale or a click, you're simply getting them to see your brand and engage with you. Once you move on from that stage, you'll start to look at things like cost-per-click (CPC), meaning how much are you willing to spend for someone to click on your ad. Or, Cost-per-thousand (CPM) views.Copy and visuals: Finally, it's time to put your actual ad together. For this, Peters says there are just 4 elements you need to include:What do you want your ad to say? As in, what emotion do you want your audience to feel when they see your ad? Do you want to shock them, delight them, intrigue them?How do you want your ad to look? Is it video? A stock image? Just text? What colors are you going to use? Is it on brand?What action do you want your audience to take? Where should they go after seeing your ad? To a landing page or blog post?Where do you want your ad to be placed? Is this an ad for mobile users or desktop users? Is it in their news feed or somewhere else?