Step-by-step content marketing guide. Matthew Johnson - Head of Marketing by Matthew Johnson, Head of Marketing

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What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic business process which focuses on providing prospects with valuable and relevant content to stimulate an interest in your services and encourage action. 

Content marketing is all about your audience. So, before you engage in building a content marketing strategy you need to properly define your audience segments and understand the challenges each of them faces. You can do this by creating buyer personas.

This allows you to create content that resonates with your key audiences and offers solutions to their problems. 

Great content builds trust and demonstrates credibility within your target audience, and if SEO tactics are applied correctly, it can also ‘pull’ the partly qualified leads – relevant web searchers – to your site.

In this guide we’re going to walk you through the steps needed to create a content marketing strategy that improves your brand’s digital footprint, generates leads and helps your business grow. 

Topics, subtopics and pillar pages.

The times they are a-changin’.

Over recent years, search engine optimisation has changed dramatically.  This is largely down to the evolving nature of search queries – the way people ‘ask’ search engines for answers.

People once used exact keywords to rank for the terms that they wanted their business to be associated with. Now, topics have replaced this thinking due to search engine algorithms being able to understand how ideas relate. 

Using keywords that precisely match a person’s search isn’t the most important ranking factor in the eyes of an SEO wiz. Rather, it’s the intent behind the keyword, and whether or not a piece of content on your website solves for that intent.

With large changes in search queries and search algorithms, pillar pages, topics and subtopics have stepped in to become the framework of a successful inbound strategy and have changed the way marketers approach SEO. 

But that doesn’t mean keyword research is an outdated process.

Keyword research tells you what topics people care about and, assuming you use the right SEO tool, how popular those topics are among your audience. 

By researching keywords that are getting a high volume of searches per month, you can identify and sort your content into topics that you want to create content on. Then, you can use these topics to dictate which keywords you look for and target.

By researching keywords for their popularity, search volume, competition, and general intent, you can create content which answers the questions that most people in your audience are searching for. 

Further categorising your content into the three stages of the buyer’s journey (awareness, consideration, decision) will also help you understand and solve for the intent behind searches. 

Topics.

Topics are the things you want your business to be known for. In other words, what you want to appear in search engines for when someone enters a related query.

Subtopics.

Subtopics are the interlinked content related to your core topic. They help boost your site’s relevance to the core topic when someone enters a related query in a search engine. 

Pillar pages.

Pillar pages cover all content relating to a topic on one page. They contain detailed topic cluster content; blog posts, webinars, white papers, podcasts, videos etc.
Having your core topic housed on a single page helps search engines discover and rank your content based on its relevance to the search query and page/domain authority. 

Choosing your core topics. 

What are the primary topics you want to be known for on the web? 

Core topics are usually directly related to the product/software/service.

For example, if you sell marketing software which helps other businesses manage their ads, social media, and email marketing all in one place, then you would want to create content around those 3 areas. 

These 3 areas become your core topics because you want to show up in search results for user queries related to them.

Choosing your subtopics.

Your subtopics present an opportunity to match your target audience’s search queries to content on your website, therefore helping you to appear in search results at the right time for the right people.  

By using your buyer personas and considering what each of them might enter into Google at every stage of the buyer’s journey, you can start planning content to match up with those queries. 

Your subtopic content will be informed by conducting keyword research around your core topics to understand what your audience is searching for and how popular those terms are. 

Conducting keyword research

Step one: make a list of important keywords based on what your business sells.

To kick off this process, think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of generic buckets. You’ll come up with about 5-10 topic buckets you think are important to your business, and then you’ll use those topic buckets to help come up with some specific keywords later in the process.

Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer personas – what types of topics would your target audience search that you’d want your business to get found for? For example if you’re an HR management software, you might have general topic buckets like: 

  • Expenses management
  • Recruitment and application tracking
  • Storing employee data

You then want to use SEO tools like Moz to find out what the monthly search volume is for each keyphrase. For example, expense management has a monthly search volume (SV) of 320. This data allows you to gauge how important these topics are to your audience, and how many different sub-topics you might need to create content on to be successful with that keyword.

Step two: Fill in topic buckets with keywords. 

Now that you have a few topic buckets, it’s time to identify some keywords that fall into those buckets. These are keyword phrases you think are important to rank for in the SERPs (search engine results pages) because your target audience is conducting searches for those specific terms.

For example, let’s take ‘Recruitment management’ as an example. Brainstorming some keyword phrases related to that topic might include: 

  • Recruitment management software
  • Applicant tracking tool
  • How to run a recruitment process

And so on. The point of this step isn’t to come up with your final list of key phrases – you just want to end up with a brain dump of phrases your potential customers might use to search for content related to the topic. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with relevant search terms, you can always ask your client-facing colleagues – like your Business Development team – what terms their prospects and customers use, or common questions they have. You may also find this in your FAQs. Those are often great starting points for keyword research.

Step three: Research related search terms.

If you’re struggling to think of more keywords people might be searching about a specific topic, go to Google and take a look at the related search terms that appear when you plug in a keyword. When you type in your phrase and scroll to the bottom of Google’s results, you’ll notice some suggestions for searches related to your original input. These keywords can spark ideas for other keywords you may want to take into consideration.

Also, more importantly, you can use tools like Ubersuggest, Moz and Semrush to find a long list of related keywords along with their search volume and the level of competition on those key terms. 

Usually the tool’s interface will have a ‘related’ tab when searching for key terms. Here’s an example: 

Find these long lists and export them to CSV (the tool you’re using should offer this option). At this stage, the more the better.

Step four: Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords.

Head terms are keyword phrases that are short and more generic – they’re typically just one to three words in length. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are longer keyword phrases usually containing three or more words.

The reason you want a mix is that head terms tend to have larger search volumes but are generally harder to rank for, while long-tail keywords are searched for less often, but are more specific and therefore easier to tell what the searcher is really looking for. It’s easier to understand the intent behind long-tail keywords which makes them a key part of your content strategy.

To see this in practise, which do you think is easier to rank for? 

  • HR technology
  • What does a HR management tool do?

If you said #2, you’re right. While ‘HR technology’ has a larger search volume, it’s a broad term so understanding the exact intent behind the search is difficult. Whereas ‘What does a HR management tool do?’ has far clearer intent – someone is researching to find out how HR software might be able to transform their business – so if your product does just that – you want to appear in results for this search. 

Step five: Conduct competitor analysis.

Just because a keyword is important to your competitor, doesn’t mean it’s important to you. However, understanding what keywords your competitors are trying to rank for is a great way to evaluate your list of keywords.

If your competitor is ranking for certain keywords that are on your list, too, it makes sense to work on improving your ranking for those. However, don’t ignore the ones your competitors don’t seem to care about. This could be a great opportunity for you to increase market share on important terms.

Understanding the balance of terms that might be a little more difficult due to competition, versus those terms that are a little more realistic, will help you maintain a similar balance that the mix of long-tail and head terms allows. Remember, the goal is to end up with a list of keywords that provide some quick wins but also helps you make progress toward bigger, more challenging SEO goals.

Aside from manually searching for keywords in an incognito browser and seeing what positions your competitors are in, keyword tools like Semrush allow you to run a number of free reports that show you the top keywords for the domain you enter – your competitor’s. This is a quick way to get a sense of the terms your competitors are ranking for.

Step six: Focus on the keywords that matter.

Now that you’ve got the right mix of keywords, it’s time to narrow down your lists with some quantitative data. You have a lot of tools at your disposal to do this, but here’s a great methodology.

Tools like Moz, Ubersuggest and Google AdWords Keyword Planner allow you to find metrics like the monthly search volume and search difficulty for your selected keywords. You want a mix again. Try to focus on finding keywords which have a high volume of searches, but low search difficulty (level of competition) so you can get some quick wins. 

Also, you can use tools like Google Trends to see whether some low-volume terms might be something you should invest in now and reap the benefits for later.

Analysing the search volumes and level of competition will help you to prioritise your list of keywords and get rid of the ones that have unfavourable search volumes – say below 100 per month. 

Planning your Pillar Page.

Pillar pages are web pages that cover a broad topic in great detail. Pillar pages are broken down into subtopics with each briefly addressing important aspects of the main topic. Each subtopic section links to a blog article, video or some other content that dives even deeper into the subsection.

Each of these pages will link back to the pillar page. The interlinking structure helps to improve visibility in search results and to establish topical authority for a given topic.

The pillar and topic methodology is an effective way to organise your firm’s web content. The more information and relevant keywords you have on a pillar and its subtopics, the more internal links you’ll be able to create on your site, which helps improve UX, navigation and adds a significant boost to your firm’s SEO. 

Circling back to this visual guide, each of the 5 topic clusters you see should have their own pillar page which houses all of the relevant cluster content.

Downloadable content offers. 

Definition.

Content offers are premium pieces of content you offer your website visitors in order to convert them into leads. Usually they’re placed behind a form and can be downloaded in exchange for your visitor’s contact information.

Lead generation. 

Pillar pages are great places to put your content offer. After providing tons of free resources, your content offer is a way of converting visitors into leads once you’ve warmed them up with helpful blogs, videos and infographics.  

If someone downloads your content offer, they’ve clearly signalled some interest in your service and can therefore be considered a Marketing Qualified Lead. They’re placed into a CRM like HubSpot or Salesforce and can be nurtured through a process to entice them to use your software.

Conclusion.

Setting up an SEO optimised content strategy requires a lot of work and high attention to detail. Making tangible improvements month on month is time consuming and pretty complex but the results can be completely transformative. So, what’s your next move?

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about content strategies for your business. 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss how Contra could help with your content strategy, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Matthew Johnson - Head of Marketing by Matthew Johnson, Head of Marketing
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