One misconception that some people have about content marketing is that it revolves around creating lots and lots of content... and little else. But the truth is that there’s a great deal of research, strategy, and refinement involved in the content marketing process, all of which are crucial to the success of this content.
Creating copious amounts of content is not the way to find success online. To launch a truly successful content marketing program, you will need to put aside any misconceptions you may have about creating lots of content, and instead focus on creating content that fills gaps.
What Are Content Gaps?
Have you ever searched for something online—perhaps a specific question, or a phrase with three or four words in it—and couldn’t find the information you needed in the first few pages of results? Or did you find the answer, but not in the level of detail you wanted? That’s a content gap.
In every industry, try as you might, it will always be next to impossible to answer every question online. In fact, in some industries, website owners don’t want to answer every question online (typically questions about price). There are also occasions where a question has been answered, or a topic explained, but not in the level of detail that searchers really want or need. This leads to an incredible opportunity for content marketers.
Is All Content Marketing Meant to Fill Gaps?
Not everything you produce has to be with the intent to fill a content gap. However, content that is produced where there is a need already identified has a better chance at ranking well, attracting links, and being shared than content that is produced because “it sounds like a good idea.”
Think about it this way: if you are already getting 200 visitors to your gardening website each week for the phrase “cost of garden mulch” because you mentioned that phrase once in an article, and no one else has an informative page about the cost of garden mulch, you stand a much better chance at ranking and making a profit from a page about this topic than you do a page on a different topic you chose randomly. The proof is already there, isn’t it?
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with your marketing. It’s difficult to predict what kinds of things will become highly searched a few weeks, months, or years from now. So if you can write an informative page on a topic that has low search volume, but also low competition, why not? Or if you can write a really solid blog on a topic that has a lot of competition, but that you know your dedicated email subscribers will appreciate, go for it!
There is just one rule you should try to follow, when it comes to content marketing: don’t do what someone else has already done unless you can do it better. It’s a hard call to make, but you’re better off saving your time and energy for new, unique ideas... unless you can do it better.
So if there is already a page on the cost of garden mulch, but it’s poorly written and doesn’t have any actual costs on it, you should definitely write your own! But if there’s a definitive guide to the cost of garden mulch, complete with an interactive map showing the costs across the United States... well, you can probably forget that idea.
Let’s start our content research with some keyword research, which is the key to creating content that search engines—as well as readers—will love.
How to Do Keyword Research
Keyword research refers to the process of identifying words or phrases your target audience is putting into search engines that you can then use in your website or content. Although you don’t have to do keyword research, it’s never a bad idea, and will help you create data-backed content that has a higher chance at ranking well and attracting visitors from search engines.
If you’ve never done keyword research before, here are two resources you can peruse at your convenience:
There are many ways to do keyword research, but in the interest of time we’re going to stick with a beginner’s method. To start your research, you’ll need to make a list of all the words and phrases you associate with your business, website, and content. Let’s say you run a gardening supply store—so that list might look something like this, to start with:
- Gardening supplies
- Gardening tools
- Gardening gloves
- Watering cans
- Decorative gardening stones
Your first inclination might be to create content around these keywords. However, there are two problems with this approach:
- It’s hard to know the intent of someone searching for “mulch” or “seeds,” so even if you rank #1 for those keywords, how will you benefit from it? (Does that person want to buy mulch, learn about mulch types, understand what mulch is...?)
- The competition is probably extremely high for such short keywords, so ranking #1 could take a huge amount of time and money.
What we’re actually going to do is extract long-tail keywords from this list. Long-tail keywords have a lower search volume, but typically have a clearer intent and represent searchers who are further along in the funnel than those looking for the broad keywords above. To do this, we’re going to be using Ubersuggest.
Go to Ubersuggest’s website and, one-by-one, plug in all of the keywords you came up with in your list. You’ll be given a long list of keyword suggestions for each word or phrase you enter.
For now, just copy all of the keyword suggestions you're given into Notepad, Excel, or somewhere else safe. You can use the “select all keywords” option on the top of the results page and the “Get” button in the right sidebar to easily copy them to your clipboard.
Once you’ve copied all these suggestions out of Ubersuggest, you’ll need to move on your next tool, Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner. Although this relies on an AdWords (pay-per-click) tool, you don’t have to pay anything to use the tool—you just need an AdWords account, which you can sign up for very quickly.
Choose the second option in Keyword Planner, “Get search volume for a list of keywords.” Grab the first chunk of results from Ubersuggest (try to limit your work to one base keyword at a time) and paste them into the “Enter keywords” box in the tool. Click “Get search volume” and you’ll be on your way!
Once you get to the next screen, click the “Keyword ideas” tab. You should see something like this:
The “average monthly searches” column corresponds to the average number of monthly searches on Google for the keyword you’re seeing on the left side. So generally speaking, the average number of people who search for “gardening supplies” each month is 4,400.
The “competition” column is designed to tell you what the competition for each keyword is with regards to PPC advertising, but this estimate also tends to be accurate for ranking organic content, too. So something labeled “High” means you’ll have a tough time ranking well, while “Low” means you can probably get to page 1 no problem.
Your goal should be to find keywords with a good balance of monthly searches and competition. If you run across anything with a few hundred monthly searches but Medium or Low competition, you’ve just found a content gap primed for the taking. Create content focused on that keyword and you should be set!
Of course, keyword research isn’t the only way to find themes for your content marketing program. Let’s go over a few more ways you can identify content opportunities.
One of the best examples of content marketing in action began in 2009, when Marcus Sheridan, owner of River Pools and Spas, began to answer customer questions on the company’s blog. He started by answering the most common question, which most fiberglass pool manufacturers shied away from: “how much does a fiberglass pool cost?”
According to an interview with the New York Times, Sheridan has been able to track a minimum of $1.7 million in sales to that one article alone. He went on to say that business owners who don’t know what to blog about should be following his strategy:
What they should be doing is just listening to every single question they get and answering it. In my consulting business the first thing we do is brainstorm what questions the company gets on a regular basis. I’ve never had a company come up with less than 100 questions in 30 minutes.
Answering questions you are already receiving from customers is one way to produce content with some level of guaranteed success. After all, if one person asked you the question, isn’t it safe to assume that others had the same thought?
If you are getting questions through email, on your social media pages, or in person through your sales reps, you can create pages, blog posts, videos, or even guides to answer these questions. However, if you aren’t receiving questions, you can still find questions applicable to your industry by doing just a little research.
Quora is a site perfect for this task:
On Quora, users ask questions and upvote or downvote answers accordingly. You can search for keywords, as we did with “gardening” above, to see recent questions on which to model your content.
Communities and other online forums can also return some interesting sources for user questions. For example, you might try reddit, a large online community containing several smaller sub-communities called “subreddits.” A search of reddit for “garden” returned an entire subreddit designed for flower identification, r/whatsthisplant:
This is an excellent source of questions you can base your content on, because you already know people are asking about them. You could scan the recent questions for patterns and write an article to address the broader question people may start with or need help answering—“how to identify pink flowering plants,” for example.
Finally, one way that you can produce content with a fairly good chance at attracting attention is by capitalizing on news or recent events. Sometimes referred to as “newsjacking,” this practice gives you a better chance at ranking highly in search engines because your content is focused on a topic that a lot of people are searching for.
Newsjacking should be done with caution, and only when the topic you are writing about has a strong link to your business. If your gardening supply store writes a news article about the latest Apple hardware, it’s unlikely that readers are going to be interested enough to stay on your site or click your calls to action for “shop gardening tools now.” But if there’s a new type of flower discovered, you could certainly capitalize on that by writing a blog post about how to care for it, or what types of gardens it would look best in.
Now that we’ve covered a few ways you can get inspired to create content for your business, it’s time to move on to the actual production process. The next chapter will consist of several tips you should follow when creating your content, ranging from writing best practices to some search engine optimization basics.