If you’ve looked up “marketing trends” in the past three years, chances are good you’ve heard of content marketing.
Content marketing is exploding in popularity—so much so that you’ve probably heard people tell you how you need to start a blog and start creating content.
Of course, content marketing can be difficult for small businesses. You already need to manage so many other areas of business. It’s hard to make the time for content—not to mention the time it takes to learn how to start content marketing for small business in the first place.
This guide serves as a primer for small business content marketing. It covers:
- What is content marketing? What is the definition of content marketing, and why should you care?
- What are the benefits of content marketing?
- Does content marketing for small business really work?
- How can you start content marketing for small business?
- What kind of content should you make?
- What content formats make the most sense for your business?
- How can you do customer research to develop a deep understanding of your audience?
- Once you have content, how can you distribute it to make sure it gets seen?
- How can you learn more about content marketing?
By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to start content marketing for your small business—as well as resources to learn more.
What is content marketing?
“Content marketing is the practice of using relevant content to provide value to a target audience with the goal of growing a business.”
There are a wide variety of content marketing definitions out there, but all of them will be in some way similar to the above. Let’s break down the different components of this definition.
First, the content you create should be relevant—both to your audience and your business. That isn’t to say that the content you create needs to be constantly focused on you, but it should be in some way connected to your business and your audience’s needs.
The content you produce should be of benefit to the people reading it.
You would think this goes without saying, but it’s actually helpful to keep in mind. Many, many brands produce content that’s focused entirely on their business operations.
Updates on your business practices can be helpful for some people, but the cornerstone of content marketing is solving problems. Your content should provide value based on the problems your customers have—not just what your business does.
“To a target audience”
Content marketing, and all marketing, is more effective with a narrow focus.
When you can zero in on the problems of a specific, niche audience, it’s easier to build trust and create compelling content.
Even if the answers you present have been talked about before, recreating them in the language of a specific audience can help people see how general principles apply to their specific problems.
“With the goal of growing a business”
In content marketing for small business, it’s important to not lose sight of the ultimate goal: growing your business. The goal is to make money blogging (or with other content).
Especially in online marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in “vanity” metrics. Knowing how many people visit your website can be important—but it’s also important to connect that metric to your larger goal of growing a business.
As you track your content marketing metrics, it’s important to make sure you are working towards the goal of growing your small business with content marketing.
Other content marketing definitions
That’s our definition of content marketing. But as you might imagine, a topic as hot as content marketing has lots of influencers weighing in with their own definitions.
We like our definition of content marketing, but it can be useful to see a few different perspectives. Here are 10 of the top content marketing definitions from other marketing influencers.
- “Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” – Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
- “Content marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.” – Brian Clark, Copyblogger
- “Content is the emotional and informational bridge between commerce and consumer. Building that bridge requires more than a budget, editorial calendar, and vision. It requires people who care, who love content, and what it can do for people. Not just what it can do for revenue, but rather how it helps people live their lives.” – Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
- “Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.” – Jay Acunzo, Unthinkable
- “[Content marketing] is a strategy of producing and publishing information that builds trust and authority among your ideal customers.” – Neil Patel, Crazy Egg & Hello Bar
- “Content marketing is engaging with your community around an idea instead of a product. What it is is to try to serve the community first, and sharing information, ideas and experiences that benefit others without directly asking for anything in return. What it isn’t is just a veil in front of a sales pitch.” – Dan Blank, WeGrowMedia
- “Content Marketing provides consumers with useful information to aid purchase decisions, improve product usage and entertain them while achieving organizational goals without being overtly promotional.” – Heidi Cohen, Actionable Marketing Guide
- “The difference between “marketing with content” and content marketing is a digital publishing platform that your brand owns. Creating an article for a publisher. Or an ebook. An ad. Or sales collateral. These are not content marketing. Content marketing means committing to publishing content people actually want. On a platform you own.” – Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group
- Content marketing…is the art and science of attracting an audience toward a brand and it’s website, then inspiring that audience to take action. This is done through the publishing, promoting and measuring of content. The form of the content is often written text, but may also be video, audio, diagrams. The function is often educational or useful, but may also be entertaining. Content marketing contrasts with advertising, which seeks to interrupt or distract an audience with a brand’s message. – Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
- “Content marketing is what we like to call owned media. It’s anything you produce—blog posts, white papers, podcasts, videos, eBooks—that lives on something you own, such as a website or blog. The advantage, of course, is you get to tell your story and have direct access to your customers and prospects.” – Gini Dietrich, Arment Dietrich & Spin Sucks
What’s the difference between content marketing and traditional marketing?
The difference between content marketing and traditional marketing is in many ways one of timing.
In a lot of traditional marketing, the goal is to convince people in your audience to make a purchase. Even in longer term brand-building campaigns that don’t push for a sale immediately, the goal of marketing is still to put your business in front of customers.
Although that’s true of content marketing in some ways, the method of getting in front of potential customers is very different.
Instead of touting the benefits of a product, service, or company, content marketing is focused on solving problems.
The logic is simple: if you solve people’s problems, you build a trust and a long-term relationship. When it comes time to actually make a purchasing decision, they’re going to turn to the people who have been helping with their problems from the beginning.
That’s why content marketing works. It solves problems to build trust.
What are the benefits of content marketing?
Of course, the ultimate goal of content marketing is to grow a business.
In the course of reaching that goal, there are a few other benefits that content marketing can help small business owners realize.
- Building broad awareness of your business
- Increasing traffic to your website
- Raising the number of people on your email list
- Building a following on social media
- Increasing sales
- Improving customer retention rates
- Increasing the number of customer referrals
- Building professional networks
And the list goes on.
Content marketing is a powerful tool because it authentically raises the profile of your business. By consistently creating relevant, valuable content for a specific target audience, you can become known as an expert in your space.
Does content marketing work for small business?
Content marketing sounds exciting, but all the definitions in the world can’t teach you how to do content marketing for small business. Does content marketing work for small business?
The answer is a resounding yes! In fact, as we’ll cover in-depth later, small businesses have a variety of advantages over larger enterprises when it comes to content marketing.
As a small business, you have the ability to have close, personal, one-on-one conversations. You can create compelling content without worrying about the bureaucracy of a large enterprise. And you can showcase your unique personality.
Joe Pulizzi, the creator of the term “content marketing,” has even argued that small businesses beat large corporations every time when it comes to content marketing.
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Content marketing statistics
We’ll get to how to do content marketing for small business in a moment.
But in case you still aren’t convinced that content marketing for small business is an outstanding opportunity for growth, here are a few statistics on the value of content marketing.
- 86 percent of B2C and 91 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing going into 2018
- Per dollar spent, content marketing generates three times as many leads as traditional marketing
- More than half of consumers say that blog content influences their purchase decisions
Content marketing for small business is powerful because it relies on the things small businesses are good at.
In-depth knowledge of your customers and a personal touch are incredibly valuable in content marketing, and are assets of most small businesses.
Best of all, content marketing is less expensive than most other forms of marketing.
The origins of content marketing
The term content marketing is relatively new—but the practice of content marketing has been going on for a long time.
In the late 19th century, John Deere began producing a printed magazine, The Furrow, to provide farmers with tips and valuable information.
Jell-O, of all things, was another pioneer of using content to support business goals. By using recipe books to inform people of the best ways to prepare their Jell-O, the company was able to become “America’s Favorite Dessert.”
The 20th century is filled these kinds of scattered examples of content marketing (Michelin guides and Procter & Gamble’s soap operas are two others). But content marketing really started to explode with the rise of the internet.
In 1999, Seth Godin published a book that would change marketing. In Permission Marketing, he argued that most modern marketing was doomed to fail.
The reason? Interruption.
Before the internet, most marketing was “interruptive,” meaning that it found people during the course of their everyday lives—and interrupted them.
For an example of interruptive marketing, think of an ad playing while you’re trying to watch an episode of your favorite TV show. Even a billboard as you’re driving down the highway is trying to steal away your attention from something else.
But, Godin argued, there’s a limit to interruption. As the internet, and now smartphones, make it so that people are exposed to hundreds of marketing messages a day, it’s hard to get people to pay attention.
The solution? Permission.
If you have permission to send people marketing messages—because your messages are valuable and they want to hear from you—your marketing will be much more successful.
This idea, of creating an opted in audience, became a key piece of content marketing. Whether you call it owned media or a “platform,” content marketing is based on sending people things they actually want.
As Godin dramatically declared in 2008, “Content Marketing is all the marketing that’s left.”
Now, we don’t necessarily agree that there’s no value to other forms of marketing. PPC ads, retargeting, events, and other offline marketing strategies still have value—when used correctly.
But the rise in content marketing is unmistakable. And it grew from this idea of building an audience that wants to hear from you.
How to start content marketing for small business
So you appreciate the benefits of content marketing. You see how content marketing can help your small business, but how can you actually get started with content marketing?
One benefit of content marketing is that it can be done with zero or small monetary investment, but any form of marketing still requires an important resource: time.
You want to make sure you spend your time as efficiently as possible, and there are a lot of content marketing questions left to answer. You need to figure out your content strategy.
What should you blog about? What format of content should you produce? How frequently should you produce it? How should you distribute content?
Let’s walk through your options.
What kind of content should I make?
The inevitable first question when you start content marketing is “what should I write about?”
Everyone—from a solo business owner to a massive brand—struggles with this question. And it makes sense. The possibilities of what to write about or what to blog about are virtually endless.
Ultimately, you have a lot of options when deciding what to blog about, and there are a lot of potential sources of inspiration for you to draw on.
- You could look at what competitors are doing
- You could see what’s trending in your industry
- You could write how-to guides or case studies
All of those are viable options. We want to highlight three content topics that often work well for small businesses.
Answer common questions from your audience
If you’ve been in business for a while, chances are you see some of the same questions over and over.
These questions are content marketing gold.
Imagine if, instead of manually typing out the same email answers or endlessly repeating the same conversations, you could simply send customers a link to the answer?
Even better: what if you could have the link sent automatically, through email marketing automation, before anyone even has the chance to ask the question?
Creating content that answers key audience questions is incredibly powerful for small business content marketing, for a few reasons:
- You can address potential customers’ concerns and convert more sales
- You can answer existing customers’ questions, and increase retention
- You’re speaking specifically to your audience—so you don’t need to compete with big brands
Check the “sent” folder of your email right now. I bet you already have a list of content marketing ideas.
Bonus: Answering questions directly from your audience is a great way to write blogs that people love. Because you know people are interested in them already.
Showcase your personality
One of your biggest advantages for small business content marketing is your personality. As a small business, you have more opportunities to create a personalized experience that showcases you.
Solopreneurs or other small business owners can embrace their personal quirks and habits more easily than a large company. It’s easier for an individual person to be unique than it is to create a multinational brand that feels fresh and like a person.
As you consider creating content, ask yourself: what unique perspective do you have on your audience’s problems?
Other questions can help you produce content that lets your personality come through:
- What are your industry pet peeves?
- What are the most common mistakes people see in your industry?
- What things do you value that other people in your industry don’t necessarily value as much?
What if you’re in an industry that doesn’t do content marketing?
There’s no such thing.
Content marketing can be successful across industries, even when your content marketing goals are different. Yes, the content you produce to sell consulting services to businesses will be different from content that sells socks—but you can still use personal content to sell socks.
Online sock store Peony and Moss created a guide on wearing thigh high socks to help customers picture how to wear their products.
The guide goes through a variety of different styles, from “Cozy Casual” to “Eclectic Cool” to “Weekend Warrior,” explaining why each outfit works and the clothes needed to make it happen.
After each wardrobe breakdown, the guide continues with a “what I love about this outfit” section—adding a personal touch to an ecommerce product.
More famously, Derek Sivers of CD Baby wrote a thank you email that he calls one of the biggest drivers of his business.
When someone purchased from CD Baby, they would receive the following email:
“Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, June 6th.
I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year”. We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!”
Customers thought this email was hilarious—and satisfied customers lead to repeat business.
As a small business doing content marketing, look for opportunities to add a personal touch throughout your communications.
Comment on trends in your industry
The last suggestion to do content marketing for small business is to comment on industry trends.
If your customers follow the same space as you, chances are they’ll have at least heard of the same trends you have.
Especially in an industry where the latest fads change quickly, such as fitness, weighing in on these trends is a great content marketing idea.
Are you on board with the latest trends? Why?
Do you think the latest trends are overhyped and likely to die down? Why?
Will Hoekenga of Copygrad took this approach to the extreme. Using the Wayback Machine, he looked at every Netflix homepage ever created, analyzing the copy and matching it up with overall industry trends.
This kind of content is extremely valuable. It breaks down the copy and positioning of a massively valuable company in an entertaining and educational way.
But it’s also totally doable for a small business owner. Yes, this kind of work is a bit time consuming, but putting together this content didn’t require any tools or technical know-how that a small business couldn’t get access to.
If you’ve built up a customer base or an audience, they’re interested to hear your thoughts. In fact, if a trend becomes popular enough, they may be expecting you to comment on it—even if that comment is just a short blog post or note on your website.
What content formats can you use?
The principles of content marketing extend beyond the format of content. This is great news, because it means you don’t necessarily have to start a blog to do content marketing.
Yes, written content is still by far the most commonly used tool for content marketing, but exploring other forms of visual and audio content can be a good way to adapt content marketing for your small business.
Blog posts are the most fundamental building blocks of content marketing. Blogs are a great marketing tool in part because of their flexibility—blog posts can be a variety of lengths, be published at a variety of frequencies, and be distributed through a variety of channels.
They’re also dead simple to produce. There isn’t anything more fundamental than putting your thoughts on a page. That’s what makes blogs a great content marketing tool.
There are even professional bloggers that make money blogging—enough that it’s their full time job.
Emails can be both a form of content and a way to distribute content. Many email marketers simply create email content by copying-pasting their blogs into an email template.
What sets emails apart from blogs is the built-in distribution. With email content, you know that your material is being sent directly to individual contacts.
And if you use marketing automation, you can even target that delivery—based on their activity, the date, your promotions, and other factors—to improve the results.
Ebooks are longer than blogs, and typically have some kind of visual component.
What makes an ebook different from a blog post is the format and content. An ebook usually goes deep on a single topic, using its higher word count to answer more questions. An ebook usually has some design elements to it that set it apart from a normal article.
Ebooks can be a great lead magnet idea—offer a PDF of your ebook to website visitors in exchange for their contact information.
Checklists fill a simple need: here’s what you should care about when doing [insert activity].
Checklists are great because they’re a simple, at-a-glance look at best practices. Your audience may not want several thousand words on a topic. They want to take a quick look at a one-page document to make sure they’re on the right track.
Checklists can be valuable lead magnets that help you increase conversion rates.
How do I write an email asking to be included in a local event? How do I write a press release? How do I put an ebook into a layout? How to I create an email automation?
Each of the above questions can be answered by a template. Sometimes, your audience will have a simple question that you can answer quickly with your experience.
If you run a fitness business, you might not always have time to make custom workouts for your audience—but you could put together a template that makes sure they hit each body part when they exercise.
Templates are usually a bit harder to create than checklists, but also make great lead magnets.
Podcasts are not always easy to produce or get an audience for, but they are the only purely audio form of content on this list.
Podcasts have exploded in popularity, and can range anywhere from 15 minutes to over four hours long (as is the case for Dan Carlin’s popular podcast Hardcore History).
As a marketing tool, podcasts are probably most effective for serving your existing customers. If your customers spend a half hour listening to your thoughts each week, they’re more likely to give you repeat business.
The ultimate visual content, infographics are a story told through pictures. Often relying on data related to a specific industry, infographics present complicated information in a visual, easy to interpret format.
Aside from being highly consumable, infographics have two significant benefits:
- They are highly shareable, and can spread on social media
- They collect a lot of backlinks to your site, which can help with SEO
Venngage has put together an excellent guide on creating simple, effective infographics.
Slide decks and SlideShares
Do give talks or presentations?
SlideShare presentations are a simple way to repurpose the slides you use in a presentation.
Essentially an online PowerPoint presentation, uploading slides to SlideShare gives you another platform through which you can distribute content—and another format for people who don’t like reading a lot of text.
Video is rising as a content marketing tool. More than any other format, video lets you showcase your brand’s personality.
Videos are highly engaging and can be used for a variety of different marketing functions—from awareness to conversion. You can embed them on your site, add them to sites like YouTube and Vimeo, or share them on social media to increase reach.
If you’re worried about being able to produce high quality video content—don’t be. It’s true that some video projects mean big budgets and lots of technical skills, but the ubiquity of smartphones means that you have an ok camera in your pocket.
Will your videos be the most polished out there? Probably not. But that isn’t what people expect from small business content marketing, and video is a good opportunity to showcase your brand.
There may be no more powerful piece of content than a case study.
A case study tells the story of one of your clients or customers. It says “look at the results this person achieved,” implying that other customers can achieve those results to.
Case studies are a bit time intensive to produce, because making them means getting buy-in and information from the customer you highlight. But once you have a case study, you can use it as strong end-of-funnel material.
Audience research and content marketing
If you’ve done any research on content marketing best practices, you’ve probably read that it all starts with audience research.
In many ways, this is true.
In order to create content that your audience enjoys, that meets your content marketing goals, and that actually grows your business, you need to understand your audience’s needs and pain points.
A lot of small business owners doing content marketing—in fact, a lot of people doing content marketing period—want to jump directly into content creation without taking time to understand their audience.
Look, doing in-depth audience research is going to take time that you don’t have. Conducting a massive survey or running focus groups just isn’t practical for a small business.
There are other ways to do market research for small business without breaking the bank, and we highly recommend you check them out as you continue to build a content marketing plan.
But as you get started with content marketing, you probably already know enough. If you interact with customers or clients on a regular basis, you know a lot of what they care about—you can refine your market research over time.
For now, there are just a few most important questions ask:
- Who is my audience?
- What do they care about?
- Why are they different from other audiences?
Targeting a specific niche is a powerful fundamental of marketing. It’s so fundamental that it’s listed as the “law of category” in the marketing classic The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.
Even if your product or service can apply to a wide variety of people, it’s worth narrowing in on a single niche. If you can own that niche and speak their language, you’ll be more likely to win their business.
And once you’re growing, you can expand into other areas. From ecommerce to fitness to law to consulting, this fundamental holds true.
The ecommerce platform Shopify highlighted the value of niche marketing in an article on their site. The Content Marketing Institute demonstrated how small businesses can beat enterprises at content marketing—by owning a niche.
If you want to get started with content marketing, fire away. But it’s worth taking a few moments to check in with who you’re talking to.
How to distribute your content
Content creation isn’t the end of content marketing. Far from it.
If you’ve put in the effort to do good content marketing and create great content, you probably want to make sure someone reads it. That’s where distribution comes in.
Distribution is a key, and often overlooked, piece of a content marketing plan.
When you look to distribute your content, there are a variety of different channels open to you (which we’ll cover in a moment).
But the first questions to ask are:
- Who is this content for?
- What is the goal of this content?
Answers to these questions can help you choose the right distribution channel for each piece of content.
If you’ve taken a moment to do audience research, you should have a pretty good sense of who content is for. Some marketing channels appeal to different demographics, and knowing which channels fit which audience can help you make decisions.
Once you know your audience, you need to make sure you know your content.
That may sound silly (after all, you wrote it) but ask yourself: what are your content marketing goals?
After someone reads a blog post, what action do you want them to take next? If someone clicks to your website from a Facebook post, what do you want them to do?
The natural answer is that you want people to become customers. And of course, it would be wonderful if every website visitor turned into a paid conversion.
But since that isn’t practical, what are some other content marketing goals you can measure?
- Sales (we covered this)
- Social media shares
- Email newsletter subscriptions
- Contact form submission
Not everyone is ready to buy from you, and that’s fine! Setting other content marketing goals that help you stay in touch with someone or reach new members of your audience can help you convert the sale—eventually.
Let’s take a look at some content marketing distribution channels.
Email marketing and marketing automation
Email may be the oldest online marketing channel, but it’s also one of the most effective.
A report from the Direct Marketing Association shows that US marketing professionals believe email has a staggering 122 percent return on investment—higher than any other marketing channel.
And that’s only the median ROI—with email marketing best practices and marketing automation, small business owners can achieve even better results.
The power of email comes in direct contact with your audience. Email is the only online channel that lets you have one-on-one communication with your audience.
That makes it a fantastic tool for small, personal businesses. It also means that you can use marketing automation to enhance your content marketing distribution.
Instead of simply sending out email “blasts,” marketing automation lets you send emails at exactly the right moments to increase conversions.
By sending emails right when a question first pops up, or immediately after a contact looks at a relevant page on your website, you can improve the chance that contacts will engage with your content—and ultimately convert into paid customers.
Social media is the most popular distribution channel for content marketing.
In an annual survey of 1000 bloggers, Orbit Media Studios reported that 95.9 percent of bloggers use social media to distribute their content.
It’s easy to see why. The allure of producing the next viral social media trend is strong.
Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?
In the summer of 2014, people all over the world started dumping buckets of ice water on their head in the name of ALS research.
The $115 million raised for ALS research has already been put to use, resulting in the discovery of a new gene variant and funding ongoing research.
Now, the goal of content marketing for small business isn’t necessarily to create a viral social media trend. Going viral isn’t as easy as it might seem, and in most cases isn’t enough to create a sustainable business with anyway.
But there’s still value to social media. Each social media platform has its own uses, but they share a common theme—social media is a way to get your business in front of your audience.
Let’s do a quick overview of some of the most popular platforms.
You can’t think of social media without thinking of Facebook.
Nowadays, it seems like everyone is on Facebook. That leads to a variety of small business facebook marketing opportunities.
At the simplest level, setting up a company page and sharing your content can help you build an online audience.
As you get more advanced, engaging in Facebook groups, sponsoring posts, and creating extremely targeted Facebook ads can help you get in front of your audience.
Originally billed as a “microblogging” platform, Twitter has risen to become one of the most popular social media platforms.
You can of course use Twitter to post links to your content, but one of the most powerful uses of Twitter is engaging with influencers. Unlike Facebook and many other channels, you can tag influencers even if they don’t follow you—which opens the door to influencer marketing.
LinkedIn has risen to become the premier professional social network.
If you’re looking to sell socks, LinkedIn might not be the place to do it, unless they are very professional socks.
LinkedIn users are on LinkedIn to boost their professional personas. Originally a networking site, LinkedIn stays close to its professional roots—making it an excellent distribution channel for professional content.
Facebook-owned Instagram is becoming the next major social media trend. Especially popular with young people, Instagram is a social media platform based on stunning, engaging visuals.
If you have products that lend themselves well to visual representation, Instagram could be a great choice of platform.
Examples of effective Instagram marketing include the wildly popular poet Rupi Kaur, who shares poetry from her collections to 1.9 million followers, and artist Marc Allante, who shares original artwork for sale in his online store.
By staying engaged with their audiences, these creators are able to promote their work on a regular basis.
Pinterest is another highly visual social media platform. The main function of Pinterest is that it lets users collect and organize pictures from around the internet.
If you’re planning an event or looking to change up your interior design, Pinterest boards are a fantastic place to look for inspiration.
Marketing on Pinterest is again going to require strong visuals. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the demographics on Pinterest are different from other social media platforms—most Pinterest users are women.
Quora is a bit different from other social media platforms in that it is primarily based on questions and answers.
On Quora, users can ask questions and get answers from experts—or anyone else. Questions are organized into specific topics to help match experts with questions about their expertise.
If your content marketing plan is heavily focused on creating content that answers questions, Quora could be a good option to increase your reach. Repurposing your written content on Quora can help put your business in front of new people.
Content marketing and SEO
Social media is far and away the most popular distribution option—but SEO is an important second.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of getting your content to show up in Google searches.
There are two reasons that search engine optimization is powerful:
- You get in front of prospects with a solution to their problem—right as they are asking the question
- You can set up your content for search once and then enjoy free traffic to your site.
When someone enters a search, they are looking for an answer to a problem. If you can put your small business on that first page of search results, you’re going to show up in every search related to that problem.
That’s a huge amount of free traffic.
Even better, it doesn’t take all that much work to maintain search engine marketing once you’ve hit the front page of search results.
Sure, you might want to check in every once in a while—and if you go down the SEO rabbit hole there’s a lot of advanced SEO you could be doing—but for small business content marketing basic SEO is a simple and effective step.
One of the most powerful methods of distributing content is your business partners and personal network.
Having a partner distribute your work to their audience is hugely valuable. Word of mouth is still the most trusted form of communication, and when a partner distributes your work they are saying “take a look at this. It’s good, and I vouch for it.”
That’s powerful. Followers follow people because they like their material—any moment where you can reach someone’s followers presents a great distribution opportunity.
The exact form of distributing through partners will depend on your business. Members of your network could share your work on social media, send it to an email list, mention you in a talk, or feature you in a guest post on their website.
An important idea underlies the specifics: your professional network is one of your most important content marketing assets.
How to build your owned media—your subscribed audience
A platform of people you can communicate with directly is your most valuable content marketing asset.
But how do you actually build up that audience?
In the old days you might try to work with people subscribed to a direct mailing list. Or build a subscription base for a print magazine.
Nowadays, email is the most effective way to build your platform.
Email offers a level of direct, one-to-one communication that other platforms just can’t match. It’s like speaking into a microphone and sounding like a whisper in each person’s ear.
Social media platforms can change their rules at any moment, affecting your ability to reach your audience. Even Google’s algorithms can change and affect your rankings.
But your email list is yours.
Ryan Holiday, marketing expert and author of six books, has this to say about the importance of email:
“If I could give a prospective creative only one piece of advice about platform, it would be this: Build a list. Specifically, an e-mail list.
Imagine that, for reasons entirely outside of your control, there was a media and industry blackout of your work. Imagine that, due to some controversy or sudden change in public tastes, you were suddenly persona non grata. Imagine if no publisher, no crowdfunding platform, no retailer, no distributors, and no investors would touch what you’ve made.”
If everything goes wrong, you’ll still have your list. But how can you build your list with content marketing?
Just ask—give people ways to subscribe
The first step in building your list is as simple as it is obvious—ask. There should be a way to subscribe to your email list on almost every page on your site.
Imagine someone finds your website through a Google search and absolutely loves what they see. You totally nailed it with your content creation, and they want to hear more from you.
But they can’t figure out how to subscribe.
Just slapping up an opt-in form and asking people to “subscribe to your newsletter” probably won’t bring in that many subscribers—after all, everyone is one a thousand newsletters already—but it at least gives the most interested readers some way to stay in touch.
From there you can work on other list-building tactics. But the first step is giving people a way to subscribe.
Gated vs. ungated content
By far the most popular method of building an email list is gated content.
Gated content is content that isn’t freely available on your site for anyone to read. It’s still free—but it requires an email address.
With gated content, you offer up content that’s exclusive to subscribers. Whether it’s an ebook, a checklist, a report, a free trial, or some other valuable thing people want—you’ll only send it to them through email.
There are a few different ways to use lead magnets as gated content, but the specifics aren’t that important when you’re getting started with content marketing. Putting together some kind of gated content is a great way to start building your email list.
How can I learn more about content marketing?
This article is an introduction to content marketing, but it still only covers content marketing 101. What if you want to learn more about content marketing?
Content marketing has exploded in the last decade, and continues to skyrocket in popularity. With that popularity comes influencers and an increase in resources to learn content marketing.
Here are a few content marketing influencers and books worth checking out.
Content marketing influencers
Content marketing is a rapidly changing field. For up-to-the-minute information about content marketing, you’ll want to follow influencers who produce content regularly.
Content Marketing Institute
The Content Marketing Institute popularized the term “content marketing.” Not surprisingly, they are also pretty good at it.
If you’re looking for content marketing best practices and principles, look no further. The CMI has a huge backlog of content for you to peruse.
One refreshing aspect of the Content Marketing Institute is their focus on real-world examples. Case studies of interesting content marketing efforts make them a great resource to follow.
Ann Handley is a content marketing keynote speaker, author, and Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. She has written several books and regularly contributes her content marketing knowledge to outlets across the web.
If you don’t feel incredibly confident in your writing skills, Ann Handley is a great person to follow. Her book Everybody Writes (discussed below) is a great primer for a beginning content marketer.
Andy Crestodina is a content marketing speaker, author, and the Chief Marketing Officer at Orbit Media Studios. He writes regular content at the Orbit Media Studios blog.
Andy Crestodina covers a variety of topics in his content, from website best practices to social media marketing to SEO best practices. What sets his content apart is that is extremely actionable—if you need to improve your content now, his content can help.
When it comes to search engine optimization, Moz are the experts. In addition to offering one of the best SEO tools on the internet, Moz publishes frequent content on the technical side of SEO—often based on original research.
Moz’s content is unique in that it can be useful for beginner and expert marketers alike. Whether you’re just getting started or need to know everything there is to know about image alt tags, Moz is a great resource.
Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series is a particularly good resource. Each week, it covers a specific SEO topic in a highly consumable and easy to understand video.
You’re already here with us, but we’d love if you stuck around.
Here at ActiveCampaign, we put together information on content marketing, marketing automation, and marketing for small business owners.
Whether you’re looking for general marketing advice or want to get the most out of our platform, we’ll be here to help.
Content marketing books
Content marketing changes quickly. Changes to the Google algorithm or individual social media platforms can change distribution strategies at a moment’s notice.
At the same time, there are fundamental rules of good content marketing that don’t change. To learn the basic principles behind content marketing best practices, we recommend the following books.
Content Inc. by Joe Pulizzi
In Content Inc., Joe Pulizzi lays out a framework for content marketing for small business. From choosing a platform, to building a subscribed audience, to monetization, Content Inc. is a fantastic primer for getting started with content marketing.
Content Chemistry by Andy Crestodina
Content Chemistry is a book that doesn’t lend itself well to summarization—but does lend itself extremely well to small business content marketing.
It’s easy to read about content marketing best practices and come away thinking “ok…but what do I actually do?” This book has the answers, walking through the intimate details of content creation and distribution.
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
Another book that’s difficult to summarize, Everybody Writes is an outstanding handbook for the beginner content marketer.
Not all content is written, but written content is still the most popular form of content marketing. In Everybody Writes, Ann Handley walks through content writing best practices, common mistakes, and ways to make your writing pop.
The Content Code by Mark Schaefer
Is it more important to create great content, or do great distribution? Both.
In The Content Code, Mark Schaefer tackles to problem of how to stand out in a crowded world. Content marketing is exploding in popularity, which means there’s more content than ever to compete with.
But with the right approach, you can “ignite” your content to stand out from the competition and grow your business.
The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott
How does content marketing interact with other kinds of marketing?
Now in its sixth edition, The New Rules of Marketing and PR covers the fundamental principles of marketing and content marketing. Filled with specific insights and case studies from small businesses, this book by David Meerman Scott is a great primer for content marketing.
Conclusion: How to start content marketing for small business
If you’ve made it this far, you have all the information you need to start content marketing for your small business.
You know how to identify your target audience, and how to distribute content once you’ve created it.
You understand why content marketing works, and how it helps you build trust and long-term relationships with your audience and customers.
You have the resources you need to start learning more about content marketing—in case you decide to go all in on your content marketing for small business.
The only step left is to start creating.