Content marketing helps build brand awareness, encourage engagement and, ultimately, convert target audiences into buyers. Content is still king almost 30 years after Bill Gates first introduced the term. In an essay he posted on Microsoft’s website in 1996, he predicted that content would be where the “real money” would be made. He wasn’t just prescient. He was right.

Since then, content has evolved with the emergence of each new format, platform and technology, setting the course for digital marketing. Content is still king because of its proven ability to attract and convert customers. When done well, content marketing is both cost-efficient and effective in providing target audiences with the type of information they want in the way they want to receive it and on the platforms they prefer – all in a manner that feels organic.

Content marketing is not about selling. It’s about educating and giving potential customers information that will help them in some way. Of course, with information so readily available, standing out among competitors and getting discovered is more challenging than ever. That’s why, in 2023, one of the keys to realizing the potential for content marketing is optimizing for search.

What is content marketing?

Hubspot defines content marketing as “the process of planning, creating, distributing, sharing, and publishing content via channels such as social media, blogs, websites, podcasts, apps, press releases, print publications, and more. The goal is to reach your target audience and increase brand awareness, sales, engagement, and loyalty.”

The content itself can take the form of blogs, articles, social media posts, ebooks, infographics, videos and podcasts. Visual storytelling in particular is gaining traction, with short-form immersive mobile-first, long-form and live videos emerging as top content marketing trends this year.

Effective content marketing goes well beyond creating and publishing a piece of content. It’s about making it searchable in a way that feels natural to online shoppers. It’s about telling your target audience a story they will find authentic and engaging, and that resonates in a personal, emotional way. Digital storytelling is an essential tool in effective content marketing. These stories can be used to share an experience, explain a concept or make an argument for something. In all cases, the goal is to make your brand real and build a connection with your intended audience.

Benefits of content marketing

  • Content marketing cuts through the noise of disruptive, outbound marketing strategies and ads that are focused on the brand and making a sale.
  • Content marketing provides an opportunity to build trust with your target audience because you are sharing information they can use.
  • Content marketing can help you create a community around your brand.

Four steps to optimize content marketing

1.   Be clear about what you want to achieve and how you will get there

Use the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals framework as the basis for your content marketing strategy. This will inform the type of content you create as well as how, where and when you distribute it. All are critical to helping users discover your brand when conducting online searches. Establish KPIs to ensure you are moving in the right direction. For maximum impact, the goals should also align with broader marketing and business objectives. Common SMART goals include:

  • Build brand awareness.
  • Improve customer engagement.
  • Increase conversions.
  • Form strategic partnerships.

Fast fact: 95 per cent of top content marketing performers use metrics to measure content performance and 83 per cent have KPIs to measure content initiatives.

2.   Create great content

This can only happen is if you have a clear understanding of your target audience — who they are, their interests, where they like to spend their time online and the challenges they face. A detailed buyer persona (a research-based fictionalized version of your target shoppers) will help you identify the type of content that will resonate with them. Relevant content is essential to rank high on Google’s search engine results pages.

Types of content include:

  • Website content. Make sure your website is optimized for search by creating content that is up to date, answers users’ questions, uses strategic keywords that will resonate with your target audience, includes visuals and features rich snippets.
  • Social media content. Create and share videos (live, recorded and immersive), images and articles on your target audience’s preferred platforms.
  • Infographic content. Easy to understand images and brief statements offer an effective way to educate and inform users.
  • Blog content. These articles — both internal and external — can cover a wide range of topics and serve many different purposes. Be sure to include share buttons to encourage distribution across social channels.
  • Podcast content. Like blog content, podcasts are versatile and popular with users.
  • Video content. As noted above, video content/visual storytelling is a top trend in 2023 as the power of video to engage audiences continues to grow in importance for marketers.
  • Paid ad content. Leveraging paid advertising is an effective way to show up where your target audience is. Here are three forms of paid advertising:
    ○      Paid search involves promoting your products by placing text or shopping ads on search engine results pages and works on a pay-per-click (PPC) model. Since you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, it’s easy to measure and manage paid search ad campaigns.
    ○      Paid social media ads are sponsored and can take forms that include PPC advertising, branded content and display ads. They can help you reach targeted audiences based on demographics, products shoppers have already viewed and other parameters that will take you to your ideal buyer.
    ○      Affiliate marketing can help you reach new customers by linking to another site.

3.    Show up where your customers are

Taking the time to develop comprehensive buyer personas will help you identify where to post and share content. The type of content you create will also inform where you place it. For example, social media and podcast content will appear on the social channel or streaming platform for which it was created.

4.    Create a content calendar

This will help ensure you are consistently creating and posting new content your audience can use — a key factor in ranking high on Google. Content marketing is not a project. It’s an always evolving process that impacts not just your marketing strategy but your overall business strategy. Staying on top of the latest trends and developing a content plan optimized for search will help drive results.