Content marketing has dramatically changed over the past five years. It has gone way beyond merely creating and publishing content, to a full-fledged and full-funnel marketing program.

Companies and marketers are looking to feed prospects in different funnel stages as per their unique needs, demands, and requirements with a dedicated content marketing strategy.

Despite the fact that 89% of marketers employ content marketing for their business goals, the average ‘success’ rate of content marketing efforts is still not encouraging.

In this article, we discuss some of the best practices that can help you (as a content marketer) learn to be a better and more effective at content marketing.

Moreover, I would encourage you to read the latest releases by Content Marketing Institute and LinkedIn’s “The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.”

These resources will guide you with respect to top business trends of 2016 and provide fresh insight into various aspects of digital and content marketing.

Having said that, here are my 7 best practices that you need to follow, in order to increase your ability to be an effective content marketer.

1. Have a Strategic Map – Written Not Verbal:

We all have a vivid idea of our goals: life goals, business goals, marketing goals, and campaign goals. If they are not written down in specific terms on how they will be achieved, they look like plain, ordinary wishes.

Successful content marketers understand the importance of a documented strategic map that sets and then guides them towards their goals.

CMI’s Study (“Content Marketing in UK 2016”) finds that 54 percent of the most effective marketers have documented their content marketing strategy. So, the first rule or best practice is to have a clear and written strategy.

2. Design a Content Calendar – Clearly Divided:

As we noted earlier, content marketing is now more than just the practice of publishing articles and books.

Instead, it has penetrated across the sales funnel, where you need to feed the prospect as per their unique needs, desires, and characteristics. Nothing can help you plan this better than a smart and highly organized content calendar.

It’s hard enough to keep track of a few content projects, particularly when you’re taking an integrated approach to content and working closely with colleagues in different roles.

A well designed and customized editorial calendar ensures smoothness of the process, keeping everyone on the same page and tracking the content production schedule.

In addition, it also facilitates team management by dividing the roles between the team members.

There are many other tools that you can use for designing a content calendar: Google docs, Microsoft Office (Excel in particular), Skyword and other collaboration tools can all prove to be very handy.

3. Create an Intelligent Content Mix:

Content mix is as important as marketing mix. While designing your content calendar, it’s a good idea to divide your content assets into types as well.

Plan an intelligent content mix that not only contains articles and blogs but also videos, infographics, eBooks, newsletters, and user guides. One of the projected top business trends of 2016 is brands’ conscious efforts to balance their content mix to cater varying needs/tastes of different segments. Businesses that fail to address this may not enjoy an attractive conversion rate.

Therefore, divide your mix into authority pieces, light and viral content, how to and user-guides, and creative content. Moreover, pick up your channels wisely and go with the ones that suit your industry, business type, available resources and budget. The best match of channels and content mix is the key to success in driving revenue and accelerating return on investment.

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4. Think Outside of the Box – Sometimes:

Sometimes, going outside of the box works wonders. It can be done in numerous ways: from selection of the content type, its topic, or how you express your point of view.

Here’s an example: Jon Gibson’s brilliant piece of promo (a whole article, in fact) on Gumtree attracted more 100,000 views within days. It was picked up by major news sites and went viral on social media as well.

He did not write about specs and technicalities of the truck he had for sale, but adopted a whole new approach to pitch. Read his piece on the Gumtree Blog and see if you can figure out what he did differently.

Broadly speaking, this piece went viral for two fundamental reasons. He was able to develop a real conversation by not focusing on boring stuff, and added a personal touch that attracted people’s attention.

Hence, the key take away is to think out of the box to find a way that could add a personal touch and develop a conversation with key prospects. Content is all about developing a conversation with prospects and selling your idea to them. But don’t go outside the box too often; it can be risky.

5. Write for People – Not Search Engines:

If you were to name one big change in content marketing over the past five years, it would be this shift of focus.

Previously, people used to write unique content to meet search engines’ requirements. The purpose was to gain maximum visibility and better rank. However, the focus has shifted from quality SEO content to engaging content. Search engines value content that drives engagement and shares.

Moreover, when you write with a people-centric approach, you won’t want to bombard them with information overload.

The best way is to provide occasional bites of food for thought that address their pain points and provide remedies. Content that has real empathy for the readers and prospects matters a whole lot more than articles that aim for search rank only.

If your pieces are engaging people and satisfying them, search engines will automatically pick this up too.

6. Focus on Lead Nurturing:

Lead nurturing is usually associated with email marketing and marketing automation, where you run drips to nurture prospects. The idea is no longer restricted to email platforms though.

Instead, the concept equally applies to content marketing. Since the ultimate goal is to first reach and then nurture prospects to convert, content marketers need to think of the prospects’ purchase decision-making process.

“We know that modern customers are very much educated and usually control the research process. Therefore, it’s important to penetrate across the buyer’s journey with engaging content so you can engage them through multiple digital marketing touch points.” Says Leon Rice; digital strategist at Content Mart; a content production agency. “In early stages of marketing, focus more on the education and this can be done by integrating your content assets with email and automation. This will allow you to send out your educational drips to prospects and educate them about the product, service or idea”; he continues.

The last piece of advice is to remember that this is a long-term process. Many prospects might not convert in the early stages but your efforts will not be in vain as they will enable you to engage with them on another touch point and have the background in mind.

7. Measure Success – Platform-wise & Asset-wise:

Finally, successful marketers never forget to measure their performance. Performance measurement enables them to find out:

  • Which channel is most useful?
  • What type of content has been most successful?
  • What content category can be eliminated?
  • Which channels need improvement?
  • What are the areas for improvement?
  • Which content assets performed well against set metrics?
  • What is the total return on investment?

In this regard, you need to do the following:

  1. Set the right KPIs (clicks, views, shares, conversion, downloads)
  2. Set the right metrics against each campaign/content type
  3. Cross-check platform performance
  4. Measure individual content assets’ performance
  5. Identify the performance boosters

It’s true that performance measurement can be very tricky. This is because perception of type of return on investment varies from person to person and department to department.

However, there are some agreed upon metrics that you can set. The number of clicks, content assets’ downloads, uploads of content details, newer subscriptions, email clicks, open rates, social shares, and number of leads generated are some of the KPIs that you can employ.

Finally, when we discuss the best practices for any given type of marketing, we are talking about ‘what is working today’.

As a content marketer, you need to keep a close eye on the industry trends, research, industry publications, and survey reports. They guide you on what is hot and what isn’t.

Content Marketing Institute, eMarketer, and Pew Internet Research are some sources that frequently share valuable insights for marketers and decision-makers. Subscribe to their newsletters and updates to ensure that you don’t miss any.

I hope these best practices help you be a better content marketer and achieve your content goals.

Read more: Content Marketing Best Practices