You’ll no doubt have heard it all before – content is king! Create killer content! Set up a blog! Use content to increase conversions!
While these are all accurate statements, they aren’t very helpful at all. How exactly do you create killer content, what should you be writing about in your blog and how exactly can you leverage content for these conversions?
First, what actually is a conversion?
Conversions are typically considered to be sales, but with changing marketing practices and something of a content marketing revolution on our hands, a conversion could now also be:
- A download (of an eBook, a whitepaper, whatever it is you’re making available).
- A newsletter signup.
- A member signup.
- A blog comment.
- A social share.
- A telephone enquiry.
I guess nowadays we’re better off thinking of conversions as goals. Whenever somebody completes an action you wanted them to take and, therefore, helped you achieve your goal of, say, receiving a newsletter signup, they have converted.
Now, how do you leverage your content to encourage these conversions?
One of the mistakes large and small businesses make is thinking that the leveraging of content only concerns the piece of content itself. As in, what you want the subject to be and whether it will generate enquiries.
It’s about much more than that. Successfully leveraging content concerns the planning, preparation, promotion and overall content strategy. Creating content without a strategy, simply because you know that you need to but not quite how just won’t get you the results you want.
Before you start jotting down ideas and eagerly typing up a blog post, you first need to:
1. Create a set of buyer personas
Creating content blindly is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a business. It needs to be targeted, otherwise how is it going to attract your target audience and, by extension, conversions?
This is where a set of buyer personas (profiles of your ideal customers) comes in.
Take some time to sit down and identify their defining characteristics that will feed into how you write and distribute your content. The following template is a good example to start with:
Age range (on average): 30 – 40.
Job role: Marketing manager.
Primary goal/s: Increase revenue, get ahead of the competition and develop profitable new strategies.
Primary challenge/s: Objection to new ideas from the top of the business, positioning the business as an industry authority, team management and organisation, developing beneficial relationships.
Preferred type of content: Email newsletter, blog post, eBook, webinar, LinkedIn update, Twitter update.
Preferred online hangout: LinkedIn, Twitter, marketing forums, marketing blogs, Google search.
You’ll soon start to see that not all of your target customers will consume content in the same way or discover it on the same social channels. This is why publishing any old blog post and just promoting in one place won’t get you the conversions you want.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Take into account your sales funnels
I say “funnels” and not “funnel” because the traditional three tier sales funnel is long gone. Consumers are now much more sophisticated, with even those after the same product or service behaving in different ways and responding to different stimuli.
This is where your buyer personas come into play. Once you know which type of content they’re most likely to consume, where they’re most likely to consume it and the kind of prompts that are likely to move them onto the next stage of their buying journey, you can map out a detailed sales funnel full of targeted content and touch points specific to each persona.
3. Remember that the core customer lifecycle is universal
While the sales funnel has evolved into more of a sophisticated sales map, the customer lifecycle at its core remains universal among every kind of buyer persona – the movement through phases of research, comparison, transaction, retention and advocacy.
At each of these phases every consumer is looking for the same kind of information, and their primary behaviour will be the same. It’s just the way in which they consume this information and the place in which they consume it that differs.
To make things a little clearer, here’s a breakdown of what your content should be focusing on at each stage of the customer lifecycle:
The research phase is, of course, where consumers are trying to track down more information about their primary need. Be it ‘best type of flat screen TV’ or ‘how do I send out 5,000 emails to prospects’, consumers in this phase are simply searching for a result that best answers their query.
The most effective way of providing this result is through thought leadership and education. Going for razzamatazz and trying too hard to impress won’t work here; consumers are looking for information, help, answers and the best solution, so offer them. Only once they have found this solution will consumers look to compare the companies that supply it.
Write how to posts, Q&A posts and list posts on your blog or in video format (or even both). Create beginner’s guides and ‘What is X? (and How to do it Right)’ style guides in eBook form. Address your buyer personas’ pain points.
When consumers are comparing you to the competition and looking to make a buying decision soon, they will be looking for reasons and benefits of buying from you. It can be tempting to ramp up the sales pitch and create content solely focused on “buy me now” or “try me now”. Instead, create case studies, testimonials, reviews and success stories, all of which showcase how your product or service has solved their problem for past customers.
It’s only natural that consumers will shop around even after consuming your ‘show off’ content. However, there are things you can do to convince consumers that they don’t need to shop around and compare after all, especially if you’re one of the cheapest suppliers of their solution. Do the work for the consumer and gladly show your competitors prices alongside yours, or offer something like a ‘Price match guarantee’.
Even when a consumer is looking to convert from comparison phase to transaction phase, your relationship with them is still pretty tenuous. There’s still the danger of discouragement right at the last minute and, while you may think that price is the number one concern for buying online, it’s actually privacy and security that are instrumental in keeping this discouragement at bay. In-fact, one study has shown that 31% of online shoppers cite privacy and security as the main barrier to transacting compared to only 10% citing high prices.
This is why trust factors are so important. If somebody doesn’t trust you then you won’t be able to persuade them to make a transaction, it’s as simple as that. You need to make them feel secure and confident in their buying decision.
Along with the testimonials on your site there are also plenty more subtle trust factors and signals to consider. Beautiful, user-friendly web design, accreditations, proper spelling and grammar, great quality content, social proof, a clean checkout process and a card verification process all contribute to how trustworthy and secure your business looks through a potential customer’s eyes.
(Other coffee shops are available…)
Your relationship with your customers doesn’t end once they’ve made a transaction. Greed gets you nowhere, while investing in your customers and building a lasting relationship with them wins customer loyalty.
One of the main ways to encourage customer retention is by just being honest. A prime example of this is Buffer, the social media management tool. When they were hacked they kept their customers informed in the best possible way – with a blog post that was continually updated everytime there was a new development. Nothing was hidden, and the company openly accepted that they should have done more to protect their system.
This type of honesty can mean the difference between losing a customer forever and keeping them loyal, and should be used across all areas of your business. Customers should always be kept up to date with the status of their project/order etc. rather than fed a tall tale meant to placate them. Think about sending personalised emails rather than bog standard templates to keep your different customers in the loop.
If you’re experiencing a much larger issue similar to the likes of the Buffer hack, go down their route of keeping your customers updated with a blog post. Don’t neglect to reply to any emails you receive from them though – just fill customers in on what’s happening and direct them to the post.
After retention comes the conversion to real advocacy. This is where customers will happily use your brand again and again, recommending you to friends and family and spreading the word about their good experiences with your business.
At this point you can afford to have more fun with your content and make something boring fun. Give potential advocates the chance to sign up for something exclusive like a video reveal of your new product or service. Send them a video of your staff members thanking them for their loyalty in a unique way. Once you know your customers really well, you could even create interactive surveys that reward them for their time with a personalised sign off and offer.
Giving a customer something that you supply for free or with a significant discount is a great way to encourage not just advocacy, but social shares. The free exposure you’ll get from this kind of social endorsement is invaluable – once this person’s friends think “Wow, this company gives out free stuff to loyal customers” they’re so much more likely to want to do business with you themselves. Further down the line you could even end your email with something like, “Thanks for that Dan, now go and grab a coffee on us” accompanied by a Starbucks coupon.
That last one might be slightly out of reach right now, but there is something you can do that doesn’t require too much effort on your part at all – hand over the reins. Let your advocates generate content for you.
Create a place where your advocates can interact with one another, compare their experiences with your brand, voice their problems and generally just share the love. Then there you have it, plenty of fodder for testimonials (with the individual’s permission of course), common questions to answer via things like blog posts, eBooks and FAQs, and a really engaged fan base who know they’re being listened to. Starbucks and ModCloth are particularly good at this.
The finer details of your content strategy
Leveraging content for conversions just isn’t possible if you don’t have your buyer personas and sales funnels planned out as outlined above. You could create the greatest piece of content in the world but if it’s reaching the wrong people, then what was the point?
Once you know who you’re targeting, what with and where, you can concentrate on optimising your content strategy itself to ensure it encourages as many conversions as possible.
4. Get buy in from your whole company
To make a content strategy work everyone in your company needs to work together. Content creation isn’t just about the text; the design team and social media team need to be on board too, ensuring the look of your content doesn’t scare potential readers away or overwhelm the text, and your content is promoted in the correct way on the correct channels.
Most importantly however, you need buy in from your executive team. When budgets are tight it can be difficult to get the go ahead on new projects, especially with something that doesn’t result in a traditional kind of ROI. However, once you can present the merit of content through figures like increased traffic numbers, more social engagement and even site visits from an internal link in a blog post, it’s very likely the execs will hand you more resources to work with.
For the time being though, those without access to a design team or camera skills might want to check out sites like Piktochart for infographic creation, Free Typography for, you guessed it, free typography and Shutterstock and Photo Pin for great images (although Shuttershock does require you to pay for pictures).
5. Research what your buyer personas are typing into Google
Don’t create content blind. The only way you’ll be able to help solve your buyer personas’ challenges and appear as an industry authority is by knowing what they’re asking Google, and answering those queries.
Take away the guess work with keyword research. Ubersuggest is great free tool for discovering longer tail phrases related to a very wide keyword, for example, “content marketing tips”. You can then select these suggestions (step 1), ‘get’ them (step 2) and paste them into the Google Keyword Planner to view search volumes and get even more keyword ideas.
Once you’ve settled on some more targeted phrases, you can type your blog post title ideas into Google search to check out the top five or so results and see what kind of content you’re up against. Ask yourself, “Could I write a better post than these?” If the answer is yes, then do it!
6. Develop content KPIs
What are your goals for your content? What kind of conversion are you trying to encourage and how will you achieve it?
Identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) like these will make the creation and distribution of your content much easier than if you were to start with no guidance. Once you know how exactly you want it to perform and the targets you want it to hit, you can optimise it to achieve these goals.
For example, say you’re creating a blog post targeted at marketing managers titled, “How to Use Social Media to Nurture your Target Customers” with the KPIs ’100 social shares’ and ‘500 page visits’. To achieve these goals you’ll want to do the following:
- Make sure the content itself is as keyword optimised, well researched, thorough and actionable as possible, preferably using as much (factual!) personal experience as you can to create trust and support for your claims.
- Include social sharing buttons and make them as prominent as possible to encourage more clicks.
- Include a call to action (CTA) at the end of your content encouraging readers to share socially and/or fill out an opt-in form.
- Promote the content on all of your own, and your company’s own social networks to get as many eyes on it as possible. Don’t just push it out once either, bulk schedule some staggered updates in a social media management tool like Hootsuite to ensure promotion rolls out continuously.
- Tag anyone you’ve mentioned in the content – particularly influencers – on Twitter to encourage them to check out the content and share it themselves.
- Utilise any existing relationships with relevant influencers. If you have a good relationship and your content is good, then it’s very unlikely they’ll have a problem with sharing your content with their own following to get more eyes on it.
- Consider targeted social media advertising such as promoted posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, promoted tweets on Twitter and paid discovery on StumbleUpon to help your content reach a wider audience. You could even consider submitting your content to a content discovery platform like Outbrain and Taboola where it can be promoted across a huge number news and blog networks.
Would you have gone to the effort of taking all of the above actions if you didn’t have KPIs and goals in place?
7. Make your content beautiful to look at
I’ve already mentioned the importance of having your design team on board with your content plan, but design is so important to your content I thought I’d better go into it in more detail.
A truly amazing piece of content is still likely to be ignored if the design isn’t there too. Bad design is incredibly off-putting and can lead to people tuning out before they have even started to consume the content properly, and by bad design I don’t just mean the wrong colour scheme or rushed imagery.
The layout needs to be pleasing to the eye, CTAs and social sharing buttons need to be placed for optimal impact, the featured images on your blog posts need to be unique and creative (trust me, readers will appreciate it) and, most importantly, the content needs to be mobile friendly. Imagine how frustrating it will be for smartphone and tablet users who can’t view your content on their devices. They’ll simply go elsewhere.
8. Analyse content performance
The only way you’ll be able to leverage content for conversions is if you know which types of content resonate well with your buyer personas, and go on to create more of it.
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make with their content is not measuring its performance. You should be actively encouraging comments, finding out how many people read or watched each piece, how many shared it via social media and how many linked to it in a piece of their own content. Find out which pieces of content are doing well and go on to create more of them. Elaborate on a popular subject, repurpose a successful, older piece of content or, if list posts do well on your blog for example, write more pieces structured in this way.
Google Analytics is full of these kinds of metrics while SharedCount (above) is great for tracking social engagement, and Facebook and Pinterest themselves come with built in analytics that track the engagement of your posts.
9. Don’t go in all guns blazing
A short and sweet tip but a crucially important one nonetheless… don’t get too ambitious too soon. Start with a smaller piece of content, get that right, then move on to bigger and better things to avoid the quality of content and your morale suffering.
10. Don’t be afraid to enlist professional help
To produce that killer content that everyone is always talking about, you’re going to need the help of a professional. The reality is the world of content is now a sophisticated network of not just simple blog posts, but ebooks, videos, whitepapers, webinars, social media and more that small businesses simply can’t handle alone.
While outsourcing the work to freelancers is a convenient alternative you should take into account how the logistics of this approach will impact your business. It means your content creators are likely to be spread here, there and everywhere and chasing up any delayed work, or indeed organising the project in the first place will take longer than if you were taking care of things in-house.
On the other hand, you could employ a content marketing professional or outside agency with the knowledge and drive to be able to spearhead a content marketing campaign in the most effective way possible, and in close proximity. These options might incur an extra cost, but the rewards you’ll reap in return for the job being done right will be more than worth it.
Still with me after all of that? Good, because leveraging your content for conversions isn’t as intimidating a process as this post might make it seem. However, it is a process that requires a significant amount of time, effort, dedication and, if you really want to create something truly stand out, money. What you’ll receive in return though means that all of that investment will pay dividends: a reputation as an industry authority, more traffic and warmer leads.
Want to know more about how to leverage your content for conversions? Drop me a comment below and I’ll answer your most burning questions : )