Running a successful small business was hard before the pandemic. Now, no matter what you sell and how you did things before, more of your focus has necessarily shifted online. And that means you need to figure out how to make sure your potential customers can find your website.
Easier said than done.
Online marketing is a vast field that includes a number of different tactics you can try. For many small businesses, a good tactic to include is content marketing.
Why to Use Content Marketing
Content marketing is a tactic focused on building online visibility and improving your business reputation by creating content that helps your audience. For businesses used to advertising, it can feel unintuitive at first—it requires spending money on content that doesn’t make a hard sell.
But in the competitive online space where getting noticed amidst the noise is a growing challenge, helpful content that answers your audience’s questions is one of the best ways to:
- Show up in the search engines for relevant search terms
- Get other websites to link back to yours
- Gain email subscribers and followers on social media
- Build goodwill with the people most likely to become your customers
It requires playing the long game. Someone who first learns of your brand via a blog post or video today won’t necessarily make a purchase right away. But if your content impresses them, the likelihood they’ll choose you when they’re ready to buy is much higher.
The Importance of a Small Business Content Strategy
Content marketing requires a lot of work, and typically involves a number of different channels. A content strategy is key to making sure that work pays off. And it’s how you ensure the work you do across various channels supports each other.
For instance, if you publish an ebook in the hopes of generating leads, you’ll want to publish blog posts that drive people to the ebook, and share social posts that send people to the blog post. A strategy enables you to plan everything out so it connects and works together.
And by committing time in the early stages of developing a content strategy to research, you can make sure all the work you put into content marketing is targeted at the right audience, addresses the things they care about, and will help you achieve the specific goals you want to get from it.
10 Steps to Create a Small Business Content Strategy
If you’re ready to commit to content marketing, these are the main steps to follow to create a content strategy for your small business websites.
1. Clarify your goals.
Every strategy should start with goals, so you know where to focus your efforts and how to measure success.
What do you want to accomplish with content marketing? If you want more people to find your website, search engine optimization (SEO) should be high up on your list. Research from the Manifest found that 70% of small businesses don’t have an SEO strategy—which means you have a chance of getting out ahead of your competitors on it.
If you want to build relationships and loyalty, then aiming to build a following on social media and with your email list may take precedence. And relationships are traditionally one of the best ways for small businesses to beat the big guys, since you can give more personal attention to your customers.
Most goals content marketing can help you accomplish are connected. But figuring out where your top priorities lie will help you better craft a strategy that produces the results that are most important to you.
2. Define your audience.
Good communication depends on knowing who you’re talking to. And a successful content strategy is ultimately all about communication. In order to know what your content should be about and what types of content to invest in, you need a picture of who you’re creating content for.
Look to your current customers for this step. What do they look like? What are their interests and concerns? Do they have any key traits in common?
Set up customer interviews to find out what they care about, what types of content they like, and to learn about their buying habits. And then create buyer personas to help you keep them top of mind, and make it easy for anyone else that works on your content marketing team to do the same.
3. Determine your budget.
What you can accomplish with content marketing will have a lot to do with your budget. While it has far fewer direct costs than advertising, creating and promoting great content takes time. And as a small business owner, you know too well that time is a form of cost.
In order to create an effective content strategy and follow through on it, you’ll likely need to hire employees, contractors, an agency, or some combination of the three. And while you can find lots of content marketing tools that are free, you may find your work is easier or more effective if you invest in paid products for some purposes.
To figure out how much of an investment you can make, decide how much you’re able and willing to spend. This step will help you make realistic decisions when working out the rest of your strategy.
4. Do your research.
Hopefully you covered audience research well back in step two. But now you have more to do.
Keyword research is a pillar of good SEO and content marketing. Learning what relevant terms your audience is looking for on the search engines tells you:
- What topics they care about
- What questions they have
- What terminology they use when talking about your industry and products
Along with your customer interviews, the keyword list you produce based on your research will form the basis for the topics to cover in your content.
Pro tip: As a small business, your best bet = is to prioritize long-tail keywords. That means specific phrases that include several words. Think “best vegetarian pizza in Houston, TX” vs just “pizza delivery.” More specific terms are less competitive, which means you’ll rank faster. The big, broad keywords everyone’s going for have probably been won by big businesses with more money to spend. Set your sights on more realistic goals. And if your business is local—definitely use that! Local terms are less competitive than national or international ones.
In addition to keyword research, spend some time on competitor research. Google the top terms you’d like to rank for to see who shows up now. Your top content competitors may be different from the brands you think of as your main competition.
Once you’ve identified who your competitors are, spend time on their websites seeing what topics they cover, what content formats they use, and how they structure their content. Sign up for their email lists and follow them on social so you can see what they do on those channels as well.
Seeing what subjects they’re covering will help you generate more topic ideas. And it may help you spot content gaps—topics your audience cares about that no one’s covering well yet. Content gaps are a great opportunity to create the missing content and become the main authority on that subject.
5. Decide what resources you have, and what you need to invest in.
Once you’ve done enough research to have a pretty good idea of what your audience responds to and the types of content to create, think about what you need to realize the strategy you’re starting to formulate. Should you invest in a paid SEO tool to better track rankings and keyword opportunities? Or a premium social sharing tool to manage your promotion efforts? Or maybe a stock photo subscription to help supply the images you need?
And figure out what skills you need on your team to create and promote the content you have in mind. Do you have anyone on your staff now that can help, and do they have time to give to it? If not, get to work finding the talent you need to realize your content strategy.
6. Create an editorial calendar.
Now take all the ideas floating around in your head and put them into a clear, organized timeline. This is called a content calendar, or an editorial calendar. Assigning clear dates for each piece of content is an important step in going from idea to execution. When you have a set deadline, you’re more likely to get the work done in a timely manner.
An editorial calendar helps you keep everyone on your content team on the same page. If you have different people doing the writing, graphics, and social promotion, they all need a way to stay coordinated.
And it helps you stay consistent—which is crucial for content marketing. Putting up three blog posts in a week followed by three weeks of silence looks sloppy and will confuse your audience. A calendar helps you spread things out evenly.
7. Create a promotion plan.
Everyone doing content marketing thinks about the importance of content creation. But some overlook how important content promotion is. Publishing amazing content isn’t worth much if no one finds it. And with how crowded the internet is, you can’t expect people to find your content on their own. You need to give them a nudge (or a few).
That means sharing your content on social media. It can also mean investing in paid promotion on search engines and social media to make sure your content gets in front of the right people.
And often small businesses use strategies like partnering with other small businesses to do content exchanges to reach each other’s audiences, or contacting relevant bloggers in your area or industry to let them know about pieces they may be interested in.
Small local businesses have a lot of white-hat link building techniques that are all about getting more involved in your local community. Use that! It’s a way to build connections with other local businesses and organizations and improve your content marketing results at the same time.
8. Start creating content.
And now we get to the hard part. Well, one of them. Get to work actually creating the content you planned out in your strategy.
Expect this to take time. Quality content that provides good information isn’t something you can rush. Orbit Media’s blogging survey found that the average blog post takes nearly four hours to write. Other content formats like videos and ebooks take even longer.
But as a small business owner, you know most things worth doing for your business aren’t easy. The only way to get results is to put in the work.
9. Measure and improve.
Once you start publishing, start measuring as well. You want to see how well your results match up to the goals you established back in step one. If SEO was your top priority, pay attention to how many keywords you start to rank for, and how much of your traffic is coming from the search engines. If audience loyalty is important, look for an uptick in email subscribers. And look for correlations between all the metrics you track and your sales.
Ultimately, all of your work should be adding up to new customers and/or more loyal customers that come back for repeat business. If your content doesn’t help achieve that, revisit your strategy to figure out why.
Pro tip: Content marketing is a long game. Don’t expect big results to start pouring in on day one, or even month one. Give it time—especially if you’re starting from scratch with a new website or no real online following.
10. Keep it up.
This may be the hardest part of successful small business content marketing. When you’re starting out, you have a mix of excitement and good intentions that propels you. As you get weeks and months in, it gets harder to maintain.
Many businesses let their efforts fall off within a few weeks or months. You won’t get results that way. For any of the work you do to pay off, you have to stick with it. Keep creating content. Keep promoting it. Keep measuring and updating your strategy based on what you learn.
Get Started with Small Business Content Marketing
Content marketing takes work. But it’s an effective way to build up your website’s visibility online, gain a wider reputation with the right audience, and earn trust from the people you want to buy your products. All of that leads to greater success over time. If you’re willing to commit and stick with it, content marketing can lead to great results for your small business.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.