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A Proven Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing

In this article, I’ll cover content marketing for beginners so you can grow your business as a creator.
A Proven Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing

I joined a digital marketing team in a British software company in 2013. There, I spent seven years working as a content marketer. We created content like blog posts, articles, e-books, social media posts, podcasts and videos to attract customers, create brand awareness, and grow the business.

Before joining this content marketing team, I worked as a journalist. Arguably, journalists make for good content marketers, as we are comfortable communicating with an audience. Content marketing is also more financially stable than journalism.

Meanwhile, I used content marketing to grow my business. I published one lengthy blog post a week about the craft of writing and grew an email list. Later on, I increased the number of blogs I published each week.

I also experimented haphazardly with YouTube videos before settling on podcasting. Content marketing helped me land some freelance writing gigs, such as writing for Forbes. I also used it to sell books and courses and to earn a good living by promoting products and services I use (affiliate marketing).

Over the years, I experimented with paid advertising to sell my books, particularly Facebook ads and Amazon ads. However, I've experienced mixed results using paid advertising to sell books and courses.

Call it blogging. Call it podcasting. I like the term “content marketing,” as it's free. Anybody working in a creator economy can get started with some sweat equity.

What’s more, if you're comfortable writing, podcasting, recording video or sharing stories on social networks, you possess an unfair advantage over competitors and other entrepreneurs. They’ll pay you a lot of money for skills you’re probably taking for granted.

But how does content marketing for beginners work? Let's dive in.

What Is Content Marketing For Beginners?

Content marketing describes creating content, that is, articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, guides and other formats, to attract more potential customers.

Unlike outbound marketing, whereby you reach out to would-be customers, this strategy relies on content to attract customers like a magnet.

Also known as inbound marketing, content marketers create and publish content that raises awareness about their business and leads potential customers toward a purchase.

This inbound marketing strategy is ideal for anybody who works in a creator economy because the internet thrives on content. It's also relatively easy to learn.

Traditional Marketing vs. Content Marketing

Traditionally, marketing a product or service involves outbound efforts. A marketer cold calls a database of prospects or leads. Marketers pay for an ad on television, the radio or a billboard. Or they set up ads on Facebook, Google, and other platforms.

Content marketing, on the other hand, empowers your ideal audience to come and find you. They find a helpful blog post via a search engine result, read an interesting Twitter thread, or subscribe to your podcast or video series.

After engaging with your articles, videos, or podcast for a while, they may decide to buy one of your products or services because they like and trust you, thanks to your content.

What Are the Most Popular Types of Content Formats?

As a creator, you attract customers using many different content formats. Some valuable content marketing formats today include:

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • White papers
  • Guides
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Images and memes
  • Checklists
  • Quizzes
  • Presentations
  • Webinars
  • Social media stories
  • Case studies
  • Customer testimonials
  • Email funnels

Selecting the right format for your business and your audience is a challenge for a new content marketer. You must focus on what works and avoid shiny object syndrome.

Blogging is one of the older and most popular content formats for content marketers. Bloggers have built businesses using content since the early 2000s, in part because anyone can fire up a WordPress installation for free. And today, you can also use platforms like Medium and Substack.

Video is a popular content marketing format thanks to YouTube, Instagram stories, and TikTok. It’s a good format for anyone who dislikes creating content with the written word.

I particularly like audio as a content format for creators. A reader spends two or three minutes engaging with a piece of written content before clicking onward. And that’s assuming the article or blog post is good enough to hold their attention. Most posts aren’t.

However, a podcast consumer spends over seven hours a week listening to their favorite shows and is happy to buy products and services hosts promote. If you’re publishing a popular 30-minute weekly show, that’s a comparatively long time to hold somebody's attention!

Video content falls somewhere in the middle. According to this report, most popular Youtube videos are about ten minutes long, with engagement often dropping after the first minute.

It's not necessary to try every single type of content format. Chances are, only a few are relevant to your niche and audience. So pick one or two formats you're comfortable with and that your ideal customer already consumes.

In short: Start your content marketing efforts based on what works. It's a type of creative constraint.

Identify Your Target Audience

If you're creating for yourself or as a hobby, you can write, record, or share content about whatever or whomever you want. That's what the majority of consumers do on Facebook, Instagram, and even YouTube.

However, to succeed as a content marketer, exercise discipline about the types of content you create.

To get content marketing for beginners right, understand who your audience is and what they want. Interview them. Survey them. Get on Skype or Zoom calls with them. Build up a target market profile.

Figure out their hopes, needs, dreams, and aspirations. Describe their demographics. What products do they buy, and who do they follow online?

Next, align your products and services with your customers’ needs. Otherwise, you risk wasting time creating content that doesn’t grow your business.

Finally, align your products and services with your ideal customer persona. Distill it into a single sentence that informs your content marketing assets. For example, you may say something like: I help X achieve Y.

Larger companies use positioning statements to guide all of their content marketing assets.

Hubspot says it creates tools and software for companies that helps them grow, while Nike provides athletes and consumers quality, fashionable athletic wear.

For my site, Become a Writer Today, I came up with the positioning statement: I help writers gain authority, make an impact and share their stories.

Study Your Competitors

Creating high-quality content takes time and requires a love of the craft. But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Study content created by other authority figures, experts, and influencers in your niche.

Subscribe to their channels, email list, and/or blog. Buy their products and services so you can understand how they use content to position themselves and their products and services. Tools like Ahrefs and Buzzsumo can help reverse engineer popular content too by providing insights about what ranks and gets shares.

Save their content marketing materials into a personal swipe file. This will help you study and compare popular types of content formats, offers, headlines, and so on.

If you're struggling to find time to create content every day, block book time on your calendar. Set aside at least an hour for deep creative work.

If it’s a side-hustle, create before your day job. If it’s your main gig, make creating a priority over administrative tasks. The Pomodoro technique is particularly helpful for focusing on deep creative work.

Pick One or Two Channels

When I was employed in a content marketing team, over a dozen of us managed the creation and publication of content across multiple channels, including YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, and Facebook.

We also produced content for various blogs, email campaigns, and paid advertising campaigns. It was a tremendous amount of work for a big team with lots of financial resources.

If you're a new creator, and your name isn’t Gary Vaynerchuk, it's all but impossible to succeed in every channel with your best content. Although you can technically copy content from one channel and share it directly onto another channel, that doesn't mean it will work.

Until you’ve got the resources to hire somebody who can support repurposing efforts, it's far better to focus on one or two channels where you can excel.

Learn who key influencers are on these channels and build relationships with them. Study the intricacies of popular content using tools like Buzzsumo. Focus on creating high-value content specifically for your chosen channels.

For example, for my business, I focused on publishing long-form evergreen articles about the craft of writing. I figured out how to align these articles with searchers’ intent using optimization tools like Clearscope.

I experimented with social networks like Facebook and YouTube without much success. To my surprise, Pinterest drove more traffic to my site.

I recently focused on social media platforms geared toward writers and creators comfortable with the written word, like Medium and Twitter.

Invest in SEO

Learning how to optimize content for search engines pays dividends over time. Although it can take months for content to rank and generate a profitable return, high-quality organic content is usually more cost-effective than a paid advertising campaign.

If you’re producing any form of written content, identify key terms to include in content using tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, or Ahrefs.

For written content, I like content optimization tools like Clearscope. They help me understand search intent and research what competitors are doing. That said, these paid tools are overkill for newer sites.

Research the top five to ten most popular Google search engine queries based on your topic. Pay particular attention to how they address searcher intent. For example, is this content informational or transactional?

The former answers a query like, “How can I achieve X?” whereas the latter usually reviews or compares products.

Even if you’re creating video or audio content, it’s still worthwhile researching formats, keywords, and topics that resonate with your ideal viewers and listeners. Keywords Everywhere works well with Youtube.

Set Time Aside to Create Content

As a creator, you possess an unfair advantage over entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to grow an online business. You're already comfortable with creative processes like writing, recording, podcasting, and creating content online.

Many entrepreneurs pay creators thousands of dollars to do something you already enjoy and are good at.

So set aside a good chunk of the day when you're at your best for deep creative work. You could spend this time writing blog posts optimized around specific search terms. You could interview influencers and customers in your niche. Or you could record a series of podcast episodes or videos for YouTube.

As a content marketer, spend a disproportionate part of your day creating content and documenting your processes.

If you still need help, read my guide How to Focus.

Plan Your Publication Schedule

As a new content marketer, you won’t regret two things:

  1. Spending time creating content every day
  2. Scheduling your content in advance

These are important creative habits.

When you’re starting out, publish early and often. Once you attract an audience, move toward planning and scheduling your content in advance.

A small buffer enables you to find and fix more errors. It also prevents procrastinating about publishing a piece of content because you're worried it's not good enough or if life happens.

Using an editorial calendar, you can determine themes and topics to address in blog content, email marketing, podcasts, video content, and social media.

This practice aids with telling a consistent story to customers and followers, particularly if you want to promote or launch a new product. Plus, it enables repurposing content from one format to another more easily.

Publish Your Content

Publishing content is easy … at first. As your business grows, document standard operating procedures. Then, delegate the mechanics of publishing to a team member so you can focus on creation. Alternatively, use software to help.

I currently operate several different niche websites.

For newer sites, I publish content as soon as it’s ready so I can gauge what works. It’s not a huge risk, as these sites don’t get much traffic, and I’ve also outsourced content production.

For established niche websites with traffic, I schedule and publish content one to two months in advance with the help of a virtual assistant. I follow a similar approach for social media.

Invest in Content Promotion

Young woman holding money.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Effective content marketing differs from writing a book, recording video, or other types of creative work. Content marketers promote their content and build relationships with ideal customers.

After all, it's called content marketing for a reason.

After I publish a new series of articles, I send them to email list subscribers and repurpose them into Twitter threads.

After I record and publish a podcast episode, I typically send the interviewee an audiogram (a shareable audio clip for social media) or a link to the episode and ask them to share it on social media.

When I was a content marketing team member, we used popular techniques like Facebook advertising to promote guides and blog posts. We also used outreach on LinkedIn and asked influencers to share or contribute to some campaigns.

Today, as the owner of several niche websites, I regularly receive requests from other content marketers promoting their content. They usually want links … in exchange for a share to their several hundred Twitter followers.

It’s hardly a fair swap. I loathe these content promotion campaigns and avoid them as part of my content marketing efforts. But they work well for other content marketers.

If you find it hard to balance creating with promoting, here's what I recommend:

Create first.

Promote second.

Creating ensures you'll always have a bedrock of great content to promote, and it’ll help you hone your craft. Plus, they’re two different activities that engage different parts of the brain. So why multitask?

You can write or record videos for several hours in the morning. Then take a break and spend the afternoon preparing email marketing campaigns, advertising, or other content marketing promotion efforts.

Review Top Performing Content

Review what content drives success in your business

Ultimately, content marketing should contribute to your business’s bottom line in terms of clients, sales, or revenue.

How you do this depends on the nature and size of your business. As a website owner, I track how much revenue articles generate in terms of display advertising and affiliate marketing. I use Google Analytics and some other reporting tools to do this.

When I was a member of a content marketing team, we rated the performance of content marketing assets. We tagged and tracked the performance of calls-to-action in articles, guides, and videos to buy a product or take out a free trial.

Other creators evaluate content performance in terms of:

  • Course or product sales
  • New clients
  • Speaking gigs
  • Sponsorship deals

I recommend new content marketers assign lead and lag measures or metrics as part of their content marketing efforts. These help balance creative work with running a profitable business. Here's how it works for new content marketers.

Lead measures describe something you can directly influence by rolling up your sleeves or by commissioning more creators to help. Examples of lead measures include articles written, episodes recorded, and videos published.

On the other hand, a lag measure is like an after-action review. It reveals how your content performed.

Example lag measures include website traffic downloads and views. You can't directly increase website traffic by pressing a button, but you use analytics to decide what to do more of.

Writing a series of blog posts? Use published articles as your lead measure, and traffic or keywords ranked in search engine results as your lag measure.

Recorded several new podcasts? Use the number of recorded episodes per month as your lead measure and downloads as your lag measure.

Created a new email campaign? Use emails created as your lead measure and clickthrough rates or sales as your lag measure.

It’s relatively easy for content creators today to track their most engaging pieces of content using a platform’s native analytics. So take advantage of all this data to supercharge and get paid for your creativity.

A Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing: The Final Word

Content marketing is ideal for anybody who enjoys creative work and wants to get paid well for doing it. As a creator, you’ll find it will help you grow your business and sell more products and services.

What's more, as a creator, you possess an unfair advantage over everyday entrepreneurs who spend thousands of dollars hiring other creators like you to promote their businesses.

Pick a content format and topics that appeal to your ideal audience. Create high-quality content first. Promote and monetize second. Plan your efforts and use lead and lag measures to review content marketing efforts.

A little rigor will help you balance creative work with analytical business thinking.

FAQs About Content Marketing for Beginners

How do I learn content marketing?

You can learn how content marketing works by taking action. Identify your target audience or buyer persona. Create great content that solves problems for them. Ask for the sale. Review key metrics and optimize your conversion rates. Repeat.

What are the best ways to do content marketing?

Rather than creating what you want, when you want, create content in a content format that’s ideal for your target audience. Solve problems for them until you attract inbound traffic. Then use an editorial calendar to plan. Review key metrics regularly and optimize what works.