This is a guest post by James Tennant, founder of Converge. As a columnist for the Content Marketing Institute, and more than a decades worth of experience creating and sharing content, James shares his top five considerations for content marketing.

Content marketing. You know how effective it is. You know all the big brands are doing it, and you know you should be doing it too.

Content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising.

Content Marketing Institute, 2017

So when you see stats like that, it’s easy to see why businesses are all over it. But where do you start with content marketing?

Well, rather than jumping straight in and writing your first blog or recording your first podcast, it’s important to get a few things in order to ensure the creation of your content doesn’t become a huge investment of resources with little outcome.

1. Research is Paramount

Often, when businesses have decided that they’re going to put some time, effort and cash behind a content marketing strategy (yay!), they want to get straight into creating. A video, a blog, a podcast – let’s get them all started now, right!?

But without doing the proper research first, the likelihood is you’ll just end up creating the wrong content because the content you create isn’t for you. It’s for your ideal audience. And that’s important to remember. What you find funny, engaging and interesting, might not be what your potential customers and subscribers find funny, engaging and interesting.

And the only way you can find out who your audience is and what they want is to do the proper research. And that takes time.

To create great content that performs successfully for your business, you need to find out what your audience wants. So ask yourself these questions to begin with:

Who are they?

Are they business owners? Single mothers? Recent graduates? Do they earn more than £50k per year? Do they live in Bristol?

How do they want to consume content?

Do they prefer blogs? Videos? Podcasts? Webinars? Downloadable PDFs? Emails?

Where do they want to consume content?

Social Media? Email inbox? At events? In a niche magazine? On your blog? A publishing platform?

How often do they want content from you?

Weekly? Monthly? Every day?

Why do they want content from you?

Are you an authority? Are you entertaining? Do you provide specialist knowledge they can’t get elsewhere?

What do they think of your current content?

Do they like it? Dislike it? What do they want you to provide them with?

While the above is not an exhaustive list, answering those questions should give you a solid starting point.

Surveys are a great tool to use to find this information out, and you can create them for free with Google. Ask your subscribers and clients to complete the survey. Finding out the information your paying customers would love to know will make your content a resource they can’t do without, and that should lead to more enquiries for you.

After that, you can start to look at things like keyword research, using tools like Google’s Keyword Planner or Google Trends, and what influencers or competitors in your industry are doing that are achieving results. Moz’s Link Explorer is great for this.

Keeping an eye on competitors is important, but don’t ever copy them. We all know how unsuccessful the robots were (now dropped) compared to the meerkats (still going strong).

Research is an ongoing part of any content marketing campaign so, while most of it is done in the early stages of a campaign before you create any content, it’s never really finished. Keep researching those keywords, and check-in with your audience often to make sure that you’re creating content that they find valuable.

2. Stick to the Plan

It’s important to note that, as with any marketing strategy or campaign, commitment to it is so important. Without focus and effort, any content marketing campaign is doomed to fail.

Don’t start your content marketing strategy with, “We’re going to give this a try, then see where we go from there.” As one of the top content marketers in the game (Andy Crestodina, FYI) said in a recent article on Converge:

Content is long term, but durable.

Andy Crestodina

You really shouldn’t dip your toes into the ocean of content marketing, because you won’t see results. You have to commit to it over the long term and understand that the more you do, and the more amazing content you put out there, the greater the compounding returns will be. Content marketing is basically the ISA of the marketing world.

Did we really just compare content marketing to a retail investment product? Yes. Yes, we did.

And another thing, once your content is out there, it’s out there forever. It works for you 24/7. It’s engaging with potential customers while you’re sleeping, or when you’re doing the accounts. Think of it like that, and you’ll start to understand how immensely powerful a proper content marketing strategy can be.

It’s not PPC. It’s not advertising. It’s not immediate. But it is durable.

When it comes to our content marketing strategy, we have a 13 point plan (really). Sometimes it’s more than that.

We always start off by performing content audits on any past content we’ve produced. We’ll find out what worked and what didn’t, and how we can improve our content to better achieve our goals. Then we’ll refer to our audience personas and confirm who we’re creating content for and where the content will be published.

Next, it’s onto keyword research, then content goals, KPIs, and content type and tone. After that, we’ll assign team members to the content campaign, add it to the calendar and make sure everyone involved knows their role, and when to perform it.

And only then, at step nine, do we actually create the content. Once that’s complete we’ll work out the content promotion plan and then promote it, track the content in Google Analytics and create reports to discuss and dissect throughout the campaign before moving onto the next piece.

It gets pretty in-depth, but, as a starter for ten, we have created this downloadable cheat sheet that should help you out massively.

Broken down into eight categories, it forces you to think about things like your target audience, the type of content you’ll create, the tone of the content, where you’ll promote it, which KPIs you’ll track and more. If you can fill this cheat sheet in for each piece of content in the future, you’ll be off to a solid start.

3. Track Your KPIs

Key performance indicators (KPIs) will tell you if your content is working or not. If you don’t pick any to track, or you don’t understand what good results look like, how will you ever know what’s working and what isn’t?

For example, what sort of KPIs do we track to measure our content performance? Well, depending on the type of content, we’ll track different things. So, when it comes to our Content Marketing Guide, we’ll track the number of visits to the landing page and the number of downloads. We’ll then use those numbers to work out the conversion rate (the percentage of people who download the guide).

In our case, we ask for a name, and an email, which is pretty standard and so won’t be much of a barrier to anyone. In fact, according to Demand Gen,

95% of buyers are willing to share their name, company and email address in return for great content.

Demand Gen

If we were asking for more information, like a phone number, job title, location etc. then you’d likely see your conversion rate go down, but the quality of each lead would be higher as you have more information about each person, so it really depends what you’re after.

If you’re not asking for much, and you believe your conversion rate is too low (ours actually sits at around 30% which is fairly standard), then you need to start tweaking your landing page content, or take another look at what you’re offering as a download, and see if you can make it more valuable.

To figure out exactly which KPIs to track, and how to track them, you have to think about what success looks like for your company when it comes to your content marketing campaigns.

Are you after more engagement and/or followers on social media? Use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn’s built-in analytics to measure month on month performance and find out what’s working for you. Did you see a spike in followers after a particularly successful tweet? Did your paid campaign on Facebook result in more click-throughs to your website? Using these tools will help inform your decisions moving forward.

Take some time to think about different KPIs and make a list of them all. To get started, typically people look to track things like the number of followers and level of engagement on social media, number of subscribers for their email newsletters, traffic to their websites, bounce rates for their websites, number of enquiries per week or month, numbers of attendees at events, and numbers of paying customers.

You’ll also need to know what any KPIs you track means in terms of your business’s bottom line – do more subscribers equate to more business? If not, is it a metric you need to track? There’s plenty to think about here.

Once you’ve worked out which KPIs to track, you’ll need to see if your content delivers on those metrics and, if not, you will need to tweak your content until it does. Tracking these metrics stops you spending too long on something that’s not clearly not working. So, think of them as time savers.

4. Coming Up With Ideas

So you’ve committed to a long term content marketing strategy, you’ve worked out who your audience is, what sort of content they like to consume, and where they want to consume it. You’ve also figured out how you can track if your content is working or not. Great! You’re off to a good start.

Now let’s talk about some tools that can help you out when it comes to creating content. As discussed earlier, surveys sent to your readers and clients will help, but there are two tools I’d recommend in particular as well.

One is ‘AnswerThePublic‘, and the other is ‘Google Trends‘.

AnswerThePublic (ATP)

ATP is an insight tool that combines the suggested searches from Bing and Google and spits out, as they put it themselves, “simple visualisations of the data.”

Simply type in a keyword or phrase, and ATP will show you what people are searching for. This makes it really easy to find questions to answer on any topic or industry.

Google Trends

Google Trends “analyses the popularity of top search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages.” So it’s a great indicator of the sorts of questions people are asking around a particular topic.

It also segments answers into ‘Top’ or ‘Rising’ queries, so you can see the queries that are the most searched for (Top), and those that have become popular recently (Rising). Opportunities to rank well are much greater for Rising queries than for Top queries, so take this into account.

5. Provide Genuine Value

Whether or not your content has value (as decided by your readers, remember, not you) is going to be the biggest factor when it comes to the success or failure of your content strategy. So it’s important to make sure providing value is your number one goal.

If you’re ever unsure about the content you’re creating, just ask yourself if, based on all the research you’ve done (because you are going to do it, aren’t you?), is this blog/video/podcast/talk/webinar etc. going to provide our audience with genuine value? Is it going to answer a burning question? Is it going to tell them something they’ve never thought of before? Or is it just a rehash of something they’ve heard thousands of times before?

If it’s not providing value, then tweak it or scrap it. And don’t be precious about it.

If it is, then congratulations, now it’s time to share it with the world.