Increasingly, small business owners are recognizing the value of SEO and content marketing, but many feel like hiring an agency is beyond their budget.
While working with experts is usually the best route when it comes to the success of your website and general digital marketing strategy, there are a number of ways small business owners can strategically develop a content marketing plan they can execute themselves to help their website rank higher in Google, get more traffic, and bring in more customers.
Putting aside any specific technical SEO tweaks that can help achieve these goals (of which, there are a lot!), here is an eight week, eight step guide to content marketing for small business owners.
1. Do a Quick Competitor Analysis
Survey the digital landscape and see what the competition is up to. Maybe you’re aware of who your top competitors are, but ask yourself:
- Have you visited their websites recently?
- Have you read their blog?
- Have you perused their social channels?
See what they’re doing well and look for opportunities to replicate the good stuff.
Also, consider where can you do better than them. If you notice your #1 competitor is getting radio silence on Twitter, but their Facebook page has decent engagement, it’s probably a good idea for you to focus your time on a Facebook page for your business. Clearly, that’s where the target audience is active.
If your competition all showcase a blog on their website with interesting and informative articles about the industry and/or their products, you might want to consider doing the same. If you neglect the basic content marketing avenues, you’ll start to fall behind in Google and it will only become harder to overcome your competitors.
Recommended Tools: BuzzSumo, Ahrefs, Moz Open Site Explorer
2. Brainstorm Non-Branded Content Ideas
Once you have a sense of the type of content that’s out there (blog posts, infographics, videos, data, etc.), you can come up with some ideas for your own business. To be most successful, don’t think about traditional advertising. It will be hard to get people talking about a brand that’s just selling something to them. Instead, create something useful, something funny, something that’s legitimately new or informative.
In many cases, this may mean using existing internal data and sharing those stats with your audience. Or, use your expertise in the field to create an infographic or instructographic (step-by-step guide with visuals) to teach potential customers something about the business.
Recommended Tools: Buzzsumo (free trial), Followerwonk, Pinterest, industry publications, local news sites
3. Create Pitchable Assets
This may be the most difficult step of the process if you don’t have a designer on your team, but it IS doable. I’m severely lacking in any artistic skills (just ask my middle school art teacher!) but Canva makes it really easy to create visually appealing graphics that can be shared with bloggers and reporters looking to flesh out articles.
Additionally, Mapbox and Visage both allow regular, non-designer folks to create interactive maps and attractive charts based on existing data.
Use these simple design tools to showcase your data or educational material in a visually appealing way. Here are a couple examples of simple graphics that generated reporter interest and landed backlinks in high domain authority outlets.
Recommended Tools: Google Consumer Surveys, Google Sheets, Mapbox, Visage, Canva, Vectr
4. Compile a Press List for Outreach
Put together a dream list of publications you would want to get your company or brand featured in — For a wedding dress retailer, that might be The Knot or Bride Magazine. For a boutique law firm or property management company, that might be Curbed or the New York Times real estate section or Washington Business Journal.
Once you have this list of dream platforms, start compiling contact info for reporters who write on topics related to your business. There are expensive agency tools like Cision that probably aren’t a good fit for a small business owner, but less expensive platforms like PressRush can help you compile reporter contact info.
It’s also possible to do this research manually. Google the names of reporters who’ve written about similar topics and you can find their email with a little digging. Many of them list their contact info on a personal website or on their Twitter profile.
Recommended Tools: PressRush, Twitter
5. Pitch Reporters with Your Creative Assets
Whether you’ve created some charts, maps, a “how-to” guide, or even a tool like a calculator or app — it’s time to share it with the people who will care.
Use the list of reporters you put together and send them a customized email sharing your content and explaining how and why you put it together. The subject line and format of your pitch email is important. You want to get straight to the point, lay out the information clearly and in an eye catching manner, and make it clear to the reporter that you’re reaching out to them with something useful for their readers. It’s not about YOU, it’s about THEM.
Include the reporter’s name so it feels less like an anonymous email blast. If you can mention a previous article they’ve written that shows you are contacting them because of their past writing, you increase your odds of getting a reply.
Here’s an example of a successful pitch:
Recommended Tools: CoSchedule title tag, List of buzzwords
6. Monitor and Track Success
You can’t know if you’re actually getting backlinks and press if you don’t keep track of all your work. Use a spreadsheet to monitor who you’ve emailed and who has responded to you in a positive manner.
Even if a handful of reporters choose to pass on this first piece you’ve put together, they might be useful contacts for the future. Set Google Alerts with your company name and any verbiage related to the content you’ve put together. It’s a good idea to occasionally review any company backlinks in Ahrefs or Moz’s Open Site Explorer.
Be aware of the conversation happening around your business or brand. Save the URL of any and all published pieces so you can keep track of everything even if tracking tools aren’t immediately picking up on the links.
Here’s an example of what the tracking document can look like. Nothing fancy, but great for monitoring backlinks acquired:
Another thing to keep track of… before you get started, make note of the domain authority of your website. This is your baseline. After a few months of gaining strong, high quality backlinks, you should start to see this number increase. Remember, domain authority is a calculation trying to estimate Google’s overall strength/authority of your website. It’s a score out of 100. A simple blog or new site might have a DA around 15-25. An authoritative outlet like The New York Times has a DA of 99.
You may see growth between 1 and 5 points as a result of backlinks earned from a strong content campaign, although the higher your score, the harder it is to increase (it’s logarithmic)
Recommended Tools: Google Alerts, Ahrefs, Moz Open Site Explorer
7. Identify Online Communities Where Your Content Will Be Welcomed
Is this the type of content your current customers will love and engage with? Is it very visual and a good fit for imgur? Is it data that would succeed on Reddit’s r/dataisbeautiful? Should you share it with people who are active in travel communities or parenting forums?
There are so many niche areas of the internet where your content could be well received. Think about where you want to be and do some digging!
Recommended Tools: BuzzSumo, Ahrefs, Quora, Reddit, Craigslist discussion boards
8. Post the Creative Asset to Your Website to Drive Traffic
Whether or not you get your creative content picked up and mentioned in a major outlet, eventually, you’ll want to put the content on your site. These types of creative assets typically do best when they live on a blog, but if your company’s blog is on the subdomain (info.yoursite.com instead of yoursite.com/blog) you may want to create a new landing page for it on the root domain instead. Regardless, add the content to your site and share it in relevant forums and communities to start driving traffic.
Share the URL from any business social media channels. Here are the platforms you should consider sharing your content on:
- Put it on your Facebook page and boost it to a targeted audience (so you get more engagement).
- Tweet it out several times per day for several weeks (among other unrelated tweets)
- Share the image on Instagram and link back to the URL in your Instagram profile
- Share on LinkedIn
- Share on Google Plus
- Pin any images you can on Pinterest
- PDF the images and post to Slideshare
Again, keep track of where you’re sharing this content and work your way through a checklist over the course of several weeks. It might be a good idea to include a link to the creative content in any weekly newsletter to current customers or post a featured image to your brand’s Instagram account while changing the link in the profile to the URL of the content.
It’s also smart to find relevant subreddits and threads on Quora where your content can answer a question or serve as a useful resource to someone looking for what you’re providing. Find influencers on Twitter and mention them in tweets that link to the content. If you craft a relevant message, they’re more likely to RT it and amplify the reach of the content.
The final promotion stage can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks to complete. Don’t rush it.
Recommended Tools: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Imgur, Google+, A user-friendly task management system
The Main Takeaway
This entire process takes time, energy, and restraint.
Remember, the goal of content marketing is not to straight up advertise your website. No journalist is going to want to just write about you or your business for free. Content marketing may feel like a slightly roundabout way to boost your business’s web presence, but when done right, it will increase your site’s domain authority, drive traffic, and ensure longterm SEO success.
As a small business owner, the process I’ve described above is a lot to handle, but it’s entirely doable. Consider hiring an intern or tasking a junior employee with research and any number-crunching. Sharing any internal data related to your company is one of the easiest ways to crack into the busy world of digital content. Hopefully the steps above and the examples along the way give you ideas for marketing your business in an effective manner.