Content Marketing 101: The Ultimate Guide for Small Businesses

Regardless of their skill level, content creators and marketers are well aware of the age-old phrase: “Content is king.” While the idea encapsulates the quantitative aspect of valuable content, it comes with it’s a very broad-spectrum interpretation.

For instance, writers, who create written content, interpret the expression as a focus on churning out text-based material with extra emphasis on the length of the write-ups, and of course, the quality.

Video content creators interpret the expression as something with a ratio of 1:1 in terms of the quality of the video, the overall duration, and all the valuable tidbits in there.

As seasoned marketers, we can assure you that “content” is a combination of anything that you post out there for your audience. Whether it’s a message, a video, an infographic, or anything else for that matter.

Top it off a few notches, and you’re looking at a new challenge – i.e. content marketing. It’s a rough metric for marketers to ensure that all that value-laden content is getting enough eyes n’ ears online. Without the viral or organic marketing aspect, the content is pretty much useless.

But, what about the hours you have tapped into creating that content?

Yes, that’s true for as long as the creation part is concerned, but the effort to reward scale pretty much diminishes when you’re not properly relying on content marketing for online visibility.

If no one’s aware of whatever you’ve posted out there, it’s not going to create the ripple effect that you’re eventually looking for.

We, as marketers say that content marketing is all about planning to create and share content for 2x views, better conversions, online visitors’ retention, and vice versa.

Having said that, this post aims to crack the code on different aspects of content marketing, its overall scope, and the bases you need to cover to take your content marketing efforts to the next level.

The Scope of Content Marketing In 2023

Call it a combination of Google’s broad scope algorithm and the Gen-Z’ers’ minimalistic attention span, whatever once defined the essence of “content”, as a whole”, has changed.

For marketers and content creators, the race to the top isn’t about placing keywords in the content and getting by with conventional tactics anymore. It’s about adopting an out-of-the-box mentality to keep viewers/ readers engrossed in content – so much so that they are compelled to like and share it with the rest of the world.

And let’s be honest.

People these days, have an innate BS Detector.

We’re not kidding.

Any piece of content that doesn’t seem interesting, or deliberately circles around fluff without actually delivering the message is ignored.

An example of such content is either long-form posts with a striking title, followed by a very long rant sprawled across several pages. This is just a tactic to insert keywords, while the actual context, message, or whatever embodies the title, is mentioned during the ending passages.

The same logic applies to video content.

You’ve seen those awfully long YouTube videos. Sure, the length of the visual material is A–OK!, but the video keeps talking about the same old stuff without really getting to whatever the title was all about.

The end result?

This type of content gets downvoted to oblivious rather quickly. The momentous “popularity” factor frizzles away just as soon as it’s built up during the initial few minutes.

But, here’s the best part – and this is to elaborate on the overall scope of content marketing in 2023 in terms of the areas that are being best focused on or need to be conked out as a content marketer from your end.

  • According to 44% of marketers, one significant advantage of collaborating with small influencers is the cost-effectiveness it offers
  • Some marketers emphasize that sales, web traffic, and social engagement are crucial metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of their content marketing strategy
  • In 2022, Instagram claimed fame as the second most popular social media platform for Gen Z users. The first one was YouTube.
  • Over the past 12+ months, B2C marketers have primarily utilized short articles/posts and videos as their top two content formats
  • Influencer product recommendations garner trust from 50% of Millennials
  • Social media marketers widely embrace Instagram, with its usage at 65%, closely following Facebook’s popularity at 67%
  • A notable 22% of marketers believe that Instagram holds the greatest growth potential among various platforms in 2023
  • The video has become a prevalent marketing tool, with 91% of businesses utilizing it as part of their marketing efforts

Content Marketing Is More Than 100 Years Old!

Back in 1895, John Deere was all about marketing his own lifestyle magazine, called: The Furrow. It was an exclusive project for all the farmers out there, and John and his readers had a blast from all the valuable insight he had to offer through his creative skills.

Google wasn’t there back then.

But content marketing was! At least, in a very mundane form as long as the idea is concerned.

Even the guys at Jell-O were doing content marketing in 1905 with their unique ads and everything.

We, as marketers, just slapped a fancy name on the process and interpreted it as “content marketing” with the evolution of the internet.

The point is that history is laced with inspirational examples of content marketing that promotes value-driven content.

This brings us to the next talking point – i.e. setting up goals for every piece of content marketing project.

How To Set Goals For Your Content Marketing Projects?

At ‘The Marketing Hawks,’ we like to call it a “content with a purpose” strategy with clearly outlined goals that your content marketing efforts will eventually help to achieve.

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

A typical content marketer’s goals are outlined as:

  • Getting valuable backlinks from relevant websites with preferably a high DA factor
  • Organically rank on Google and other search engines
  • Educate your audience through value-driven content
  • Bank on the social engagement factor while it lasts!

We’ll elaborate on these goals one by one.

1. Earning Links

If you want to acquire links, you might be employing content marketing strategies that involve creating compelling content that top-tier publications cover and link to.

This content is often designed to appeal to journalists and can include data-driven infographics, interactive tools, and survey results. Consider these as “linkable assets” that contribute to your overall approach.

However, keep in mind that other types of content can help you earn links, such as infographics, interactive tools, surveys, guest posts, and expert comment contributions.

It’s not necessary to stick to a single content format. The key is to recognize that the ultimate goal is to obtain links and incorporate that understanding into your strategy and planning phase.

Remember, quality is crucial when it comes to content that earns links. It should go beyond being merely good or great—it needs to be amazing. While link building can be challenging, with the right ideas and a clear understanding of your objectives, you can create content specifically intended to generate links.

2. Rank on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

If you aim to drive organic traffic, your content must rank highly on search engine results pages. However, gone are the days when low-quality content could achieve a good ranking, thanks to historic Google updates, like Panda.

When your content’s purpose is to rank and attract organic traffic, it will likely differ significantly from content intended to earn links.

For instance, suppose your keyword research reveals that you can potentially attract high-quality traffic by ranking at the top for the search term “free things to do in San Francisco” (assuming you’re promoting a travel brand).

In that case, your content should strive to be the best piece on that topic. By adhering to this principle, you’ll already have an advantage over many competitors who fall short in this aspect.

Remember our earlier discussion about producing 500-word blog posts that lack value?

Pay attention now. If you want to rank prominently for searches related to “free things to do in San Francisco,” creating an outstanding guide is essential. Google, Bing, and other search engines aim to deliver the best and most relevant results.

Therefore, they won’t rank content that doesn’t meet their quality standards.

To create the best content, you must understand what distinguishes one piece from another. Spend time analyzing the SERPs for relevant terms before starting production. Identify commonalities among the top-ranking pages and find ways to enhance them.

It’s a misconception to think that increasing the length alone will knock a result off the top spot. Crafting the best result involves considering searcher intent, user experience, and other factors.

For instance, if you compile a list of 100 free things to do in your locality or an ideal vacation spot that you’ve never been to before, a simple bulleted list won’t be the best format for a #1 ranking.

Instead, a filterable guide that allows sorting by categories like family activities, couple-friendly options, or solo traveller recommendations, complete with specific locations, contact details, images, reviews, and descriptions, would better serve the searcher’s query and intent.

When your content’s purpose is to rank, focus on what will help you achieve that goal rather than falling into the trap of producing subpar 500-word blog posts.

3. Educating an Audience

Content often serves as marketing material and aims to educate the audience, guiding potential clients and customers through the sales funnel, or the marketing funnel for that matter.

Sometimes, there’s an overlap between content produced for ranking and content that educates, but they can also exist independently.

For example, an ebook or white paper may not rank well for competitive terms on its own, but it plays a crucial role in the overall marketing strategy. When creating educational content, take the time to understand the questions your audience asks and conduct a thorough content gap analysis against your competitors.

The goal is to ensure that when potential customers search for information related to your products or services, you have content that answers their questions and ranks.

Once these users land on your site, provide further content that helps them progress through the sales funnel.

In summary, content aimed at education can take various forms. It doesn’t need to be produced solely for ranking or earning links as long as you can justify its role in your broader strategy.

4. Driving Social Engagement

Social media cannot be ignored as a powerful platform for brand awareness and engagement. However, to achieve real success on social media, you must create content specifically designed to drive social engagement.

This highlights the importance of producing content with clear goals in mind, rather than creating content just for the sake of it.

Videos, images, quizzes, and other interactive formats tend to perform well across social platforms.

Therefore, brands should focus on creating such content if they want to succeed in driving social engagement.

A 5,000-word guide aimed at ranking on SERPs is unlikely to gain traction on social media unless it contains something truly exceptional that generates shares, likes, and buzz. On the other hand, a quiz or competition might only be effective on social media.

When you produce content with a specific purpose in mind, it’s important to embrace that purpose fully and not try to repurpose the content for different goals if it seems challenging to do so.

Concentrate on achieving great results for your primary goal, and then move on to creating different types of content to meet other objectives.

Remember to recognize the value of social media but avoid the temptation to repurpose content that is unsuited for social platforms. Instead, focus on achieving excellent results for your primary goal and consider creating separate content to fulfil other objectives.

i. Listicles

Listicles are articles structured as lists, which have gained popularity due to their easy-to-skim format and ability to break down information into digestible chunks.

They can be used as powerful marketing content by following these steps:

  • Choose a topic and a unique angle
  • Select a keyword
  • Write the list of points
  • Wrap up with a solid conclusion

User-Generated Content (UGC) is content created by users that provides authenticity and social proof for your brand. Encourage UGC by regularly posting it on social media, inviting user-submitted content, and using your own branded hashtag.

ii. Blog(s) for Content Marketing

Blogs have been a cornerstone of successful content marketing since their inception in 1994.

They are a versatile and cost-effective way to regularly add new content to your website, boost organic traffic, and play a role in your SEO strategy.

To optimize your blog posts, write for humans, use targeted keywords, optimize the loading speed, include authoritative links, use headers for skimming, and incorporate long-tail keywords.

iii. Real-Life Case Studies

Case studies are a powerful tool to demonstrate your expertise and showcase how your product or service solves real-life problems.

They provide a narrative of the buying journey, reduce perceived risk, and allow for effective keyword incorporation.

iv. Checklists AKA Listicles 2.0!

Checklists are step-by-step guides that make complex tasks more manageable.

They help users follow all necessary steps, increase productivity, and generate leads. Good checklists include a title, step-by-step tasks with subtasks, timeframes, and status indicators.

v. Email Marketing

Email marketing is a fast and flexible way to reach a targeted audience and engage with them at different stages of the sales funnel.

It can help you stay top of mind, build brand awareness, and persuade leads to convert.

Tailor your email strategy to your goals, segment your audience, measure results, and apply learnings to future campaigns.

vi. How To Guides for DIY Enthusiasts

Guides and how-tos are essential for companies offering complex products or services.

They demonstrate expertise, expand your online presence, and help customers get the most out of your offerings.

They also minimize frustration and learning curves for customers.

20 Best Free and Paid Content Marketing Tools For Every Marketer To Have

Of course, tools are the epitome of any craftmanship. We have handpicked the 20 best free and paid content marketing tools for you to move the needle on your next big marketing campaign.

1. Google Analytics (Free):

Google Analytics is a powerful tool that provides detailed insights into your website’s performance. It helps track key metrics such as traffic, engagement, conversions, and more.

With this data, you can identify your most successful content and make data-driven decisions.

2. Buffer (Free/Paid):

Buffer is a social media management tool that allows you to schedule and publish content across various social media platforms.

Its free version allows limited scheduling, while the paid version offers more advanced features and analytics to optimize your social media strategy.

3. Canva (Free/Paid):

Canva is a versatile graphic design tool that enables you to create visually appealing content.

It offers a wide range of templates, fonts, and stock images to enhance your social media graphics, blog post images, infographics, and more. Canva offers a free plan with premium features available in the paid version.

4. Mailchimp (Free/Paid):

Mailchimp is an email marketing platform that offers a free plan for users with a limited number of subscribers.

It allows you to design and send email campaigns, automate workflows, and track email performance. The paid version offers advanced features and scalability for larger email lists.

If you already tried Mailchimp before and didn’t fancy it much, Constant Contact and Send Grid are your best bet as Mailchimp alternatives.

5. WordPress (Free) (A Robust All Purpose CMS):

WordPress is a popular content management system (CMS) that offers a free version.

It provides a user-friendly interface for creating and managing your website or blog.

With its vast library of plugins and themes, you can customize your content marketing strategy to meet your specific needs.

6. Semrush (Paid):

Semrush is an all-in-one marketing toolkit that offers comprehensive solutions for SEO, content marketing, social media, and more.

It provides keyword research, competitive analysis, and content optimization tools to improve your organic search visibility. Semrush offers various paid plans based on your specific requirements.

7. HubSpot (Paid):

HubSpot is a powerful inbound marketing and sales platform that offers a suite of tools to manage your content marketing efforts.

It provides features such as CRM, email marketing, lead generation, and content creation tools. HubSpot’s pricing varies based on the features and scale of your business.

8. Moz (Paid):

Moz is a well-known SEO software that offers a range of tools for keyword research, link building, site audits, and rank tracking.

It helps you optimize your content for search engines and improve your overall search visibility. Moz offers different pricing plans depending on your needs.

9. Hootsuite (Paid):

Hootsuite is a social media management tool that allows you to schedule, publish, and monitor your social media content across multiple platforms.

It offers advanced analytics and team collaboration features. Hootsuite’s pricing varies based on the number of social profiles and users.

10. CoSchedule (Paid):

CoSchedule is a content marketing calendar and workflow management tool that helps you plan, organize, and execute your content strategy.

It provides features such as content scheduling, task management, and social media promotion. CoSchedule offers different pricing plans based on the size of your team and the features required.

11. Google Search Console (Free):

Google Search Console helps you monitor and optimize your website’s presence in Google search results.

It provides valuable insights into your site’s performance, search queries, and indexing status, allowing you to improve your content’s visibility.

12. BuzzSumo (Paid):

BuzzSumo allows you to analyze content performance across different social media platforms.

You can discover popular content, track trends, and identify influencers in your industry. BuzzSumo’s pricing is based on the features and level of access you require.

13. Grammarly (Free/Paid):

Grammarly is a writing assistant tool that helps you improve your content’s grammar, spelling, and readability.

It offers a free version with basic features and a premium version with advanced writing suggestions and plagiarism detection.

14. Ahrefs (Paid):

Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO toolset that includes features like keyword research, backlink analysis, competitor analysis, and rank tracking.

It helps you optimize your content for search engines and improve your website’s overall SEO performance.

15. Trello (Free/Paid):

Trello is a project management tool that allows you to organize and collaborate on content creation and marketing campaigns.

 It provides boards, lists, and cards to track tasks, deadlines, and progress. Trello offers both free and paid plans with additional features and integrations.

16. Yoast SEO (Free/Paid):

Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that helps optimize your website’s content for search engines.

It offers features like content analysis, XML sitemap generation, and readability checks. Yoast SEO has a free version with advanced features available in the paid version. The tool can also help in doing local SEO for your website or online store.

17. Google Keyword Planner (Free):

Google Keyword Planner is a tool within Google Ads that help you discover keywords and search volume data.

It assists in identifying relevant keywords for your content and optimizing it for search engines.

18. Feedly (Free/Paid):

Feedly is an RSS feed reader that allows you to curate and monitor content from various sources.

It helps you stay updated on industry trends, competitor content, and relevant news. Feedly offers both free and paid plans with additional features and integrations.

19. Adobe Creative Cloud (Paid):

Adobe Creative Cloud provides a suite of creative tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for creating visually appealing content.

It offers a wide range of features and capabilities to enhance your design and multimedia content.

20. Sprout Social (Paid):

Sprout Social is a social media management and analytics platform that allows you to schedule, publish, and analyze your social media content.

It provides advanced reporting, competitor analysis, and team collaboration features. Sprout Social’s pricing is based on the features and number of users.

All of the aforementioned tools are valuable in their own way.

None of the aspects makes them good or bad, for as long as you are well aware of what you are looking to achieve, your business requirements, and whatever you plan in using the tool for.

Many times, beginner-level content marketers fall victim to the buyer’s impulse syndrome where they snag software on a whim – and that too, without exactly knowing what the project requirements are.

Just to be on the safe side, we recommend signing up for the content marketing tool on a free plan. If you like what you see, and the program is working as intended, you can upgrade to a paid plan for unlimited paid features.

Good luck out there!