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Content marketing is one of the most widely adopted B2B promotional strategies, with the last year’s Content Marketing Institute’s benchmarks study reporting that 91% of their B2B respondents leveraged this tactic at least to some extent.
The same study also shows that the success rates were closely tied to a number of other factors, with most of them boiling down to how committed the respondent actually was to this approach. The ones who kept delivering content consistently, kept a documented strategy and tracked the progress meticulously, reported success at much higher rates than those who tried to only use content marketing to complement their other promotional efforts.
Naturally, commitment is not enough. Here’s a brief overview of where your time and resources should be directed if you want to see actual results from this approach.
Audience research for B2B content marketing is heavily focused on user intent. At the same time, the behavior of your ideal customers is more predictable, in the sense that their actions are guided more by the interests of the company they are working for than their own impulses and whims.
Reaching these decision makers may seem difficult, but it is the fact that you can count on them always being as rational as possible that allows you to anticipate their needs with a much greater degree of accuracy than you could otherwise.
Finally, unlike members of the general public, they often want to be found. Platforms like LinkedIn make it ridiculously easy to start an audience research from scratch, not just by going through the moderated groups of professionals who might meet the profile you need, but also by minor-level data mining aided either by LinkedIn’s internal search capabilities or web scrapers like Screaming Frogs SEO Spider. All the data you may be interested in has been meticulously provided by the very users you are trying to reach – because they want to be reached, all you need to do is gather it.
Once you know a bit about what your audience is expecting, you can start formulating an idea regarding the exact keywords they are likely to use. Reading their discussions on forums or in blog comments is a good start towards understanding, not only how they would compose a query, but also which of those queries you actually want to rank for, and which have a low chance of benefiting you in any tangible way.
Effective B2B keyword research has to take into account the long sales cycle that still lies ahead of your leads, even once they reach your page through organic search. What this means is that when choosing which keywords you are going to base your content marketing strategy around, you can’t simply look at those that will get the most organic traffic to your site. Conversion rates from organic are much lower in B2B marketing than B2C, as vendors are much less likely to be swayed into converting just because you have written an interesting article.
Instead, you have to think about the next step in the journey of the visitor reaching you through search. The keywords that you want to pursue won’t be the ones bringing the most visitors to your site, but the ones bringing in the most qualified leads and setting up the rest of their journey.
While we don’t mean you shouldn’t also target high-volume keywords that are within your reach, you’ll often find that intent-specific long tail keywords can bring you more value.
Competitors and content gap analysis
If you haven’t taken a look at your competitors during the keyword research phase ( and you should have), now is the perfect time. Naturally, in order to see in which areas you might want to take cues from their strategy, you also need to perform a detailed audit of your existing content.
Competitors are an invaluable source of information, but it is important to remember what you are looking for when going through their content. This kind of analysis is not meant to result in you plagiarizing their tactics or posts, but instead in identifying best practices, learning more about your shared audience, and focusing more on what they are not writing about than on what they are.
If you have done your due diligence during the first two phases of planning a content strategy, i. e. audience and keywords research, competitor research is the final step of the content gap analysis – the first two stages let you know what your audience is looking for, and the third revals what is already available, all you have to do is fill in the void in between.
And the work can begin
Once you have all this data on your disposal, you can confidently move on to the execution stage.
The fact that you can now proceed with creating an editorial calendar and promoting your content, doesn’t mean that you won’t have to keep reassessing what you think you know about your audience, keywords they use and competitors who are vying for their attention. However, once you actually have a campaign going, you won’t be working in the dark anymore, but will now have actual feedback to guide your efforts, drastically improving their effectiveness.