Growing Your Business with Content Marketing – A Primer

October 18, 2012

Getting the word out about your business is tough work.

While word of mouth referrals are still the backbone of growing businesses (and something that will come naturally with great service), it’s better to play things safe and learn how to successfully market your products and services.

Giving you an overview of marketing tactics is far beyond the scope of this post, but I would like to take the time to discuss one of my favorite marketing strategies that has only been aided by the growing popularity of the web: content marketing.

Today I’m going to show you how I’ve used content marketing to improve the leads and sales of the startup I work for, known as Help Scout. You’ll get an inside peak of how we turned our formerly vacant blog into a fantastic source of engaged readers and prospective customers.

Show Me The Money

Before getting into the the details, here are the goods.

First up are some traffic stats, both before and after we started getting serious with our content (after in blue):

Here’s are our leads (email signups on the blog), before in grey, after in orange:

As you can see, the impact was quite large (especially for our leads, more on that later).

A huge majority of these improvements can be attributed to the growth over at our blog, which serves as the centerpiece for our content marketing efforts.

Now that we’ve seen some results, let me break down the basics of growing your business with content marketing.

A Content Marketing Primer

The process of content marketing involves creating content (surprise!) such as articles in order to drive back traffic to your site. This happens in a variety of ways, including social media shares and indirect traffic from SEO and search engines.

Content can come in many forms, from a simple blog post to a in-depth infographic. What matters is that the content drives qualified visitors who may end up turning into customers. It also allows you to establish yourself as a knowledgeable authority on your topic.

For instance, on the FreshBooks blog, topics outside of FreshBooks are covered (such as overcoming money hurdles) in order to provide value for current and prospective FreshBooks customers. Many people might not be interested in a new FreshBooks update (or at least not as much as current customers), but almost all freelancers and entrepreneurs would be interested in topics covering business & money management, and that’s why they are included.

On the Help Scout blog, it would be boring if we talked about ourselves all the time (the biggest content marketing no-no), so we break down interesting customer service research and create actionable posts on how you can improve your customer service.

Outside of your company blog, you can also create content in the forms of guides and resources (e-books are a great fit). These are useful for providing information about your industry and your product, and serve as a way to get people on your newsletter.

Why would you want to do that?

Well, it’s all apart of what I call the “content marketing funnel”…

How a Content Funnel Leads to More Sales

The typical stages of the content funnel look like this:

  1. Entry points (links and mentions from other sites)
  2. On-site content (company blog & resources)
  3. Email list (your newsletter)

To make things easy (if you’ve never done any content marketing before), I’m going to break each one down, one at a time.

1.) Entry points

Content marketing isn’t going to work very well unless you start building an audience for your blog, and if you don’t already have a small audience to leverage, you won’t get very far.

The answer to this problem is to get mentions and links from other popular sites back to your homepage and company blog.

While you will naturally get links from other sites from time to time, you can get them with certainty by engaging in a process called guest posting.

This means you write an article for another site (like I’m doing here for FreshBooks) and include a link back to your business. This will generate more customers and grow the presence on your blog.

You can also get out on 3rd party platforms, hence all the rage surrounding social media. While Twitter and Facebook are both great, be sure to look at platforms like SlideShare and LinkedIn for B2B businesses.

2.) On-site content

This is the content on your own site, and you can get creative here as well.

While I already mentioned infographics, you can also dabble in things like podcasting or even video content (check out how Wistia does things on their blog).

The main thing you need to remember is that it’s not about you. You need to create content that folks in your industry will enjoy, don’t just write about your team and your company all of the time; while that may be interesting to you, it’s boring for outsiders.

For instance, over on the BufferApp, instead of always writing content on what’s going on with the product, the team addresses work-related tips and “lifehacks” on working and being better.

Because this content is so interesting, many pieces have been republished on big sites like Lifehacker and other publications, sending tons of traffic their way.

The story of Marcus Sheridan, a man who used content marketing to turn his business around through writing about fiber glass pools, shows you that no topic is too dull to create decent content around.

Creating great content will naturally lead to people sharing it, and it will also lead to SEO traffic, often you won’t need an “SEO campaign” to get your content to rank, it just naturally does because people have shared the post.

3.) Email list

The ultimate goal of your content marketing efforts (outside of creating more direct sales) is to build your email list. Of all of the platforms to grow, why this one?

Well, not only does email crush social media in B2B, but it’s also far more reliable (in all industries) than any social media platform that you’ve used.

It regularly gets open rates (people opening the email) and click-through rates (people clicking on a link in the email) of 70 / 35%, respectively.

When’s the last time 35% of your Twitter followers clicked on something? (Hint: the answer is never. Twitter click-though rates are often as low as 1-3%).

People buy through email (Amazon), people stay updated with things they care about through email (newsletters), and everybody uses email (unlike social networks). In short, having a large, engaged email list is the best accessory to your content marketing efforts in the long-term.

Additionally, when you have a large email list, each new piece of content has an audience just waiting to share it. How do you think folks like Copyblogger get hundreds (and even thousands) of shares on their content? It’s good stuff, but it’s mostly because of their massive email list.

Plus, when you have people on your newsletter, you can update them with product improvements or special offers, all of which will lead to more sales.

How to Get Started

The first thing you need to get started with content marketing is a blog. I recommend installing WordPress to your main site and running your blog on that platform, it’s super easy.

Next, you need to decide what you’ll talk about.

The important thing to remember here is that your blog needs to combine informative content + a unique twist to be successful.

On the Help Scout blog, we look at customer service research in our posts… do you want to know why? Because nobody else is doing it.

Find what parts of your industry are lacking, and what kind of content people want in your business’ niche, and make it happen.

The folks at WPMU DEV were able to increase sales to their products by utilizing a blog all about WordPress, but it focused on a lot of interesting WP topics that few other blogs were covering well at the time of it’s inception.

Make sure your content is filling a void, not just taking up space.

Your Turn

What did you think about this content marketing primer? Let me know in the comments, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

about the author

This is a guest post for the FreshBooks blog. FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.