Content marketing is a marathon. You start excited and energetic, writing away at lightning speed, dodging and weaving around slower, inferior competitors.
Then you hit mile 12.
And suddenly your legs feel like lead. Your thighs burn and your feet seem to be moving in wet sand.
You run out of ideas. You stare at an empty content calendar and scribble “infographic?” with no real optimism.
This article will give you the five important steps you need to take to win the content marketing marathon.
1. Start Conditioning
Nobody runs 26.2 miles without first running one. In the same way, no one writes a blog article every day without first learning how to type.
You can’t dive into content marketing and find success without a bit of prep work.
Learn how to Write:
No, seriously. Blogging isn’t necessarily an academic paper, but it is still a creative pursuit. Writing well and writing quickly gives you a higher content ROI and makes you worth more to your business.
- Take a creative writing or persuasive essay-writing course from your local community college.
- Go through an online typing course and learn to type faster and more accurately.
- Find where and how you write best: no noise? busy coffee shop? headphones and whale song? complete darkness with a towel over your head?
Learn your Subject:
You need to be a trusted authority, a source of information that readers flock to for insight and expertise.
But first you need to know what you’re talking about. If you’re not already an acknowledged expert in your field, this means reading before writing. Learning before spouting:
- Download ebooks and actually read them.
- Subscribe to the RSS feeds of bloggers, blogs, and businesses who seem to know what they’re talking about.
- Read blog articles and check out case studies and reports in your field.
- Keep doing all these things, forever.
2. Stretch Before You Run
We all know that feeling of running after a bus (or child) for a half block and pulling up short because that muscle in our calf decided now would be a good time to seize up.
Warming up and stretching is a vital part of running a long distance. Your body and mind both need to be prepared for what’s ahead (especially if we’re talking 26.2 miles!).
You need to stretch a few times and do a couple jumping jacks before you set down to writing content as well.
Establish a Content Calendar:
Know what you’re going to write before you write it. Know that this Thursday you have an article due on the Facebook algorithm change from last Friday. Knowing what you’re going to write and when eliminates the panicky feeling that can come with content marketing.
Deadlines are amazing. True, sometimes they hang over our heads like a storm cloud, threatening to ruin our Sundays. But more often than not they give a structure to what can be an otherwise chaotic career path.
Deadlines are a thing to work toward and an ego-boost when we finish early. They give us something to defeat each day and look back at with pride.
The other awesome thing about content calendars is that if you have a particularly productive day (two pieces of content, for instance) you can get ahead. In my personal opinion there is no better feeling than knowing you’re scheduled through till next Wednesday.
Outline your Articles:
Before you start writing the meat of your article, give it bones. Give it subheaders, relevant statistics, relevant links, and images. Structure your article so you keep on track.
This effectively shows you (as you’re writing) how much progress you’ve made and how much farther you need to go. I love this strategy, as I find it simple to tell myself “Okay, James, just finish three more sections and you’re halfway through.” This keeps my focus and stops me from being distracted by social media, buzzfeed and (more recently) an incredibly disappointing soccer game between England and Uruguay.
Do your Research:
Your blog article will do better (you’ll finish faster than your fellow marathon runners) if you have an argument, something to teach your readers, or something to persuade them of. And all of these need supporting facts.
Before you write an article type its title into Google and see what other people have written. Do you want to write the same article that’s already been written 100 times? (By the way, sometimes this isn’t such a bad idea! – it’s called keyword ownership and it comes from the same articles written better, more recently, and with more readers). Or do you have a hypothesis for an article but aren’t sure if it’s supportable?
I wrote a series for SmartBlogs called “Why Marketing Needs to Get Personal”. In my research I found a recent study by Nielsen which discussed how much consumers trust different sources of brand information. My discovery (that people trusted “people like themselves” more than any other source) matched up with my hypothesis. Not only that, it proved my hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt and the statistics – delivered in a timely and interesting format – made the article go viral.
So touch your toes a few times before running.
3. Start with Small Steps
If you start sprinting right out of the gate you’ll pull up short before the first mile mark. Initially, content creation is about taking well-measured, slow steps.
You need to determine what your ideal reader is interested in. Don’t just start writing on what interests you the most or what you think they want to know. Ask them. Test it. Measure what content gives you the best ROI. Then deliver.
What gets you the best return on your investment?
- Can you write and record a podcast in less than 2 hours? (1200 words equals about 10 minutes). How much engagement will you get in return for that time?
- Should you devote 6 hours to writing a 2000 word article or three hours to writing a 1000 word article? Do you get double the attention for the former?
- Can you create an awesome infographic with the design abilities (or staff) you currently have?
- Do you have connections that will promote your content for you? Is it worth spending time to build those relationships? (The answer to this by is, 9 times out of 10, an emphatic “Yes’)
4. Pace Yourself
Don’t waste all your energy on the first 10 miles, as the last 16 will ruin you and you’ll end up in an orange tent with an oxygen mask.
Use your resources and energy wisely. In fact (and here’s where we start cheating a little bit) there’s no reason you can’t catch a quick lift on the back of the press motorcycle for a mile or so…
You put a huge amount of time and energy into each and every one of your blog articles. Each one takes hours of research and writing – let alone the months or years it took you to be able to write with authority on the subject in the first place.
Don’t expend all that energy on a single piece of content and then forget it. Instead, re-use the content:
- A blog article equals a podcast on the same topic (or simply the article read aloud)
- A blog article equals a webinar where you discuss the same topic using the statistics and language)
- A blog article equals a Slideshare with the same stats, best practices, or step-by-steps
- A blog article equals a video where you condense the information into a 2-minute how-to video and post it to your business’ channel
- Three to six themed blog articles equal one video series, webinar series or podcast series
- Two or three themed blog articles equal one infographic
- Five or six themed blog articles equal one ebook
5. Push through the wall
We all hit that part of the run when our legs start disobeying our brain. When, suddenly, each step is torture and people are passing us like we’re standing still. That part of the run when the curb is looking incredibly comfortable and we ask ourselves “What the hell am I doing here on a Saturday morning when I could be sleeping in?”
This is when pushing forward is the hardest. When our blog readership is stagnating, we’ve run out of ideas and the words simply aren’t coming.
Here are a few ideas on how to anticipate and push through the content wall (because it gets easier on the other side):
- Your content calendar (part of conditioning) will help you get through the tough patches. Stick to it and you’ll find the “wall” shorter or, ideally, not there at all
- Writing content more than a day before it needs to be published gives you room to breathe.
- Know what content you’re going to be reusing and maximize your ROI with intelligent content creation and a solid amount of research
- Use templates: critique articles (sector based, perhaps) can be both valuable to your readers and quick to write. I’ve written many articles on sector-based landing pages in which I critique real-world examples and offer what I like and what I’d recommend testing
- I also use header image templates (either Canva or Google Drawing) which make my blog images appealing, consistent, and quick to make.
Guest contributions are like those little packets of gooey carbohydrate energy you suck down around mile 16. They can be a lifesaver and a godsend and I have nothing bad to say about them.
Unless they’re bad. In this case you have to be able to tell struggling freelancers that it’s not a positive ROI for you to spend six hours editing their article when you could just write one of your own.
If you’re skeptical of a contributor, I recommend instituting a policy where you see a preliminary draft or structure before they continue. I’d also recommend being 110% clear what you expect. Give them the word-count you want, the format, the type of author bio, how many links they’re going to get, etc, etc. Leave nothing out or you’ll have to spend time fixing it.
Mind over Matter:
You may not have more than a hundred readers. You may have a negative ROI and you may be haemorrhaging leads like a sieve.
Don’t give up. Successful content marketing comes only with perseverance and consistency. Implement all the best practices you can find in a million other articles (find your niche, develop relationships with influencers, use social media intelligently, syndicate, write interesting and engaging content, etc) and success will come.
Your first mile didn’t take you 5 minutes. It took 10. Don’t expect yourself to immediately pass that guy with the short shorts and 0% body fat. That guy’s crazy.