Content is vital in online marketing. Since the early days of SEO, we've been populating sites with great articles and landing pages. Then along came content marketing, which is now the backbone of most digital strategies. We shouldn't forget small-but-powerful content like PPC ad copy and social media posts either, as these play their own important part in the customer journey.
From acquisition to conversion, content has an integral role to play. But have you given much thought to how that role evolves during the customer's journey?
Perhaps the biggest challenge in online marketing is enabling people to discover you – before they even know they need you. In other words, raising brand awareness.
One solution is using content marketing to ensure value-adding branded assets – think lists, infographics, quizzes, videos and blogs – appear on sites your customers are browsing. So, for example, if you're a party supplies business, your strategy might include targeting sites popular with parents, students or brides-to-be.
This will tie in with social media, one of the main ways we discover and consume content in 2015. To be shared and clicked, content needs to be enticing, easy-to-digest, informative and entertaining – designed with your social audience in mind.
Another aspect to consider is 'curious Googlers' – the people who search for informational queries such as 'table centre piece ideas' or 'children's party games'. A fantastic blog on your site could become visible for these searches, thanks to Hummingbird, and if it's engaging enough, those casual browsers might just remember your name.
At this stage the customer knows that they need a service or product like yours, and they might know that you provide it. But they're not entirely convinced – they're still confused as to how it all works, how they'll benefit, and how to take the next step.
This is why your content needs to provide in-depth and practical information, including top tips, advice guides, step-by-step explanations, case studies and FAQs.
On the content marketing side, your thought leadership should also be promoted with whitepapers or expert guest op-ed pieces, published on the kind of sites your target audience will turn to for advice and authoritative information.
When it comes to search engines, these individuals might search for purposeful keywords (such as a precise service or product you provide, sometimes along with location), so make sure your landing pages are optimised for these terms.
If you're bidding on AdWords for these phrases too, your ad copy will be crucial in standing out from the crowd. You might already have an idea of the callouts and CTAs that will be most effective at this stage of the buying process, but it's still important to test and optimise your ads to drive continual improvements.
Of course, getting potential customers onto your site is only half the battle. The next step is converting them – and you could still fall at this final hurdle.
Pages explaining your products or services need to be persuasive and authoritative, while testimonials, case studies or reviews can be just the push a visitor needs to convert. With a bigger budget, you might even consider video product demos and tutorials, or interactive tools like calculators or virtual fitting rooms to really give visitors a feel for the product.
Social also has a part to play here. These days your social accounts will be one of the first places people go to find out more about your brand – so score brownie points with interesting posts, special offers and great customer service.
One size doesn't fit all
Using content to influence your customers' buying journey relies on addressing your audience in ways appropriate to whichever stage of the process they are at. You'll need to consider what messages might be most effective and influential throughout. And you'll need to apply some common sense.
You wouldn't wave a contract in the face of someone who's just turned up at your exhibition stall or walked into your showroom. Just like you wouldn't cold call a customer who you know is in the final stages of mulling over a big decision. It's about communicating in the right way at the right time.
You should address customers differently at every step of the journey. Understanding that journey is the key to a strong content strategy.
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