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Content Marketing: What is it and why is it used?

12 May 2014

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Content marketing is not a new concept, but it’s one that has risen in popularity in recent years alongside social media and blogging. This is likely to be because distribution channels have improved tenfold and as such, given more it scope.

What is content marketing?

Briefly, content marketing is the production of useful, engaging and entertaining content, taking various forms, which target a specific market in order to provide potential customers with material they will enjoy and so engage with a brand.

This content takes a variety of forms, such as:

  • Blogs
  • Whitepapers
  • Email
  • Articles
  • Video/podcasts
  • Images
  • Webinars
  • Presentations/slideshows
  • eBooks
  • Press releases
  • Infographics and video infographics

These are distributed through a variety of channels, such as syndicates, social media channels, image repositories and websites. They can prove valuable on a number of levels, such as building an email list by offering downloadable content, attracting potential customers to a site through engagement and helping to improve a site’s SEO.

Background and a brief history

Any look at the history of content marketing varies, with some claiming that it goes back as far as cave paintings in 4200 BC! Whilst I think that is stretching the definition a little too far, it has been around for quite some time and it’s safe to say that workable examples can be traced back a good few decades, at least.

Content creation for the modern world can really be said to have begun in 1994, at the same time as the internet went mainstream with Netscape Navigator. It wasn’t long before online businesses had created more content than had been produced in the previous decade.

At this time, larger documents such as whitepapers and PDFs began to gain some traction in online marketing, which was quickly followed by the emersion of free email accounts from the likes of MSN.

This was soon followed by the rise of eBooks and not long after that the launch of the iPod, which made podcasts popular. In 2004, Microsoft introduced its first blog, the first by any major company, which was aimed at the developer community, called Channel 9 and remains live today.

Blogging soon became incredibly popular and was really the first social media. However, social as we know it today began to emerge very quickly following this and not long after, the content marketing revolution began!

This was really started by a few authors such as Ann Handley and C.C Chapman, who wrote the book Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business.

Since then, content marketing has been seen as an essential tool in every marketer’s toolbox and over the course of the past year has steadily risen to become the kingpin of digital marketing.

Why has it risen so sharply in popularity?

There are a lot of businesses online these days, as there are consumers and the web is very competitive, with billions of web pages. This means that getting your site noticed is no easy task.

Add to this changes from Google which concentrate on doing away with bad SEO practices, such as keyword stuffing, content mills and link-buying and the quality of content now has value.

This means that businesses who are prepared to have quality, informative and valuable content created and distributed has a head start over that site that has static text and has a website as nothing more than a shop window.

How do I use content marketing?

Content can be used as a part of your overall marketing efforts and this means that you have to get it out there. A good example of how it can be used is by creating a free whitepaper and/or eBook that is only available through download from your site upon filling in a brief form.

This is a clear call to action, which allows you to build a mailing list based on a person that has already shown interest in your industry and content. Further to this, distributing through social media, syndicates and so on will also entice people to engage, as well as providing you with a valuable document which contains your URL and relevant keywords.

This is very useful as a SEO exercise too, as Google will look favourably on high-quality content as well as social indicators such as how many likes, shares and comments your content receives. This can be any of the social media sites and they are a resource which should never be under-estimated as a powerful tool in a marketing arsenal.

Whilst quality, usefulness and readability are very important, so too are keywords, relevance to your industry and how much engagement it receives. The most effective forms of communication are those that evoke some kind of emotion in the reader, such as laughter, or even anger. There’s nothing to say that being provocative doesn’t work.

Can a CMS help me to produce quality content?

Yes, if it’s a good one that is suitable for your business’ needs. Not only can a CMS create keyword suggestions, it can also duplicate content for various other sites such as your business microsites, mobile sites and so on.

Creating good content takes time and distributing it can be a pretty laborious process too. A good CMS will help with this, automating what processes it can, creating reports and readability scores, updating keywords in HTML headers and monitoring the content already out there to check for engagement.

A CMS that has CRM capabilities is also useful as it can help monitor and maintain conversations with customers without having to plough your way through hundreds of different social sites, comments and so on.

A CMS can also make email marketing much less trouble and allow you to personalise it for groups of customers who like certain content. By building a sound email contact database and linking it to the CMS, it’s possible to easily and quickly distribute content this way too.

It can also help with SEO insomuch as it can aid keyword research, which can be time consuming, and update headers and so on so that they are changed across the board.

Content marketing continues to evolve too and it’s becoming much more common now to embed video and images into blog posts, which should now no longer be kept to 500 words, as it seems that longer blogs are proving more successful.

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