What Is Content Marketing?

Content MarketingI live in a provincial town with a thriving small business economy. The place is full of solopreneurs and small-scale startups in various niches. Most sell online and they all understand the value of social media and web advertising. They’re smart, connected, and many are digital natives. Very few of them of them put any effort into content marketing. Time and again, I’ve asked small business owners about their content marketing strategy; the response is usually either a blank look or a sheepish admission that they’re doing no content marketing at all.

I think that’s a mistake, and I’d like to take a swing at explaining to small business owners everywhere what content marketing is and what it can do for their business.

What Is Content Marketing?

The essence of content marketing is quite simple: creating and publishing content — writing, video, slideshows, whatever — that is likely to be interesting to the people a business wants to sell things to. The paradigmatic example is the business blog. Successful content marketers use their blog to bring people to their site by publishing content that establishes themas trustworthy, interesting, knowledgeable, sympathetic, and someone with whom it would be a pleasure to do business.

That’s really all content marketing is. I imagine there is a site that consistently publishes content you like to read or videos you like to watch. Content marketing is about making your site like that for a set of people who want to buy your product, the theory being that if you attract people with content, some of them will buy something from you.

Does It Work?

If you’re used to measuring the success of marketing efforts by the number of shares a social media post gets or the number of clicks on a search ad, you’re not likely to be impressed by the initial results of content marketing; it’s a long-term marketing strategy. It takes a while to work, but it involves the creation of owned resources that will draw an audience for a long time.

As inbound marketer David Meerman Scott puts it:

“if you spend $5,000 in a given month on Google AdWords, the only thing you are buying are the resulting clicks of your ads appearing against the important phrases people search on to find your business. But as soon as you stop paying, your clicks stop too. This is the classic example of a marketing expense. However, if you spend $5,000 in a given month to hire a freelance journalist to write a bunch of interesting blog posts relating to important phrases people search on to find your business, you will have assets that live on forever that will drive people to your content from the search engines for years to come. The content will have value many years after it has been paid for.”

Content marketer Scott Severson recently conducted a study that aimed to answer the ROI question for content marketing, and the results are instructive: break even in nine months, 200% ROI in 18 months, ten-fold increase in organic traffic.

There are innumerable studies that show content marketing offers a substantial ROI increase compared to PPC and other advertising. And of course, content marketing dovetails nicely with modern SEO best practice — more content means more search results. Great content can bring great search results.

One of the downsides of content marketing, and what discourages most of the small business owners in my town, is that creating content is hard. Writing is hard. Making videos is hard. But all the evidence points towards it being worth the effort.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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