10 Steps to Creating Content that Actually Sells

Content marketing isn’t only about getting your brand seen by a wider audience. Sure, that’s a big part of it but you’re not in this game because you want people to read more – you want them buy into your business.

Which means your content strategy also needs to generate, nurture and close leads. Everything you publish should contribute to the sales process – otherwise you have to ask why you spent time and money producing it in the first place.

This is where so many brands go wrong with content marketing – by forgetting the fundamentals. However, profitable content is no more than ten steps away.

#1: Get your research platforms sorted

Research for your content strategy comes in two phases. You start with extensive research before publishing a single piece – to determine your audience, the kind of content they need, what your goals are and other essentials.

The second phase of research is ongoing; something that never ends. This is to make sure your content remains fresh and your ideas still excite people. This becomes incredibly tricky over time but there are a number of tools you can use to keep the ideas coming:

  • Google News
  • Feedly
  • Facebook Search
  • Google Trends
  • Twitter

These will keep you in touch with the latest content in every topic you need. You’ll not only get ideas for you own content, you’ll also see what performs best on various different channels.

#2: Have a call to action for every piece of content

Always ask yourself this question: what do you want people to do after they finish with your content? Chances are you don’t want them to put their phone down and go about their business. You’d probably rather they do something more constructive, something more profitable.

This is where calls to action come into the buying process and they’re not limited to landing pages or product descriptions.

Let’s take your blog page as an example. Every post you publish earns clicks because it talks about a topic that interests your audience. So why not use that interest to encourage another action – one that generates a more actionable lead for you?

Any blog post that doesn’t have an email signup option, a free download link or some kind of next step for users is a waste.

#3: Get the right skills on board

The best seal of approval your content can get is people naturally linking to it and sharing it across social. We’ll talk about links in more detail later but they’re basically SEO gold and shares are the same for social.

To make this happen regularly you need to reach a certain standard of content – a very high one at that. People in the industry always talk about “quality content” but rarely talk about what it actually means. Well, take it from me, it starts with having the right skills on board.

If you’re publishing blog posts, get a writer on board. If you’re creating infographics, hire a designer and pay what it takes to get the right level of quality. Until you do that you won’t be hitting the kind of standard it takes for a content strategy that naturally grows and captures leads.

There’s something else you need to create “quality content,” too. And this is where most brands end up going wrong.

#4: Nail your value proposition with every piece of content

When people in marketing talk about “quality content” this is what they’re normally talking about. The quality of writing, design and other standards we mentioned above are important because they prove you’re a serious brand. They install confidence in consumers that you’re a trustworthy business; one they can shop with in confidence.

Despite that, you’ll see a lot of content get a response when that kind of quality isn’t quite there. And this is because the value proposition of the content is so strong that production quality becomes a secondary factor.

So when you’re coming up with title ideas for content ask yourself why people should bother reading it. Then ask yourself why they would consider sharing it or linking to it. If you find it difficult to answer either of these questions, then your value proposition isn’t strong enough.

#5: Mix up your content formats

People use a range of devices to browse the web and they use these in different environments. So some types of content are better suited for certain situations than others. For example, a blog post isn’t much use to anyone while they’re out jogging but a podcast might be.

A video isn’t always ideal when you’re stuck on the bus without headphones either. In this case, a blog post could actually be the way to go. These are the kind of considerations you need to make – and there’s nothing wrong with creating the same content in different formats. In fact, it’s a very good idea in a multi-device world.

Personal taste comes into this, too. The fact is some people prefer to read while others would rather watch a video. The more bases you cover, the more people you can appeal to and expect to engage with.

#6: Make it visual

An essential element of the point above is picking the right visual content. We recently published a post with some great resources for visual content – so go a head and check that out.

It’s a good idea to have a content strategy that involves all of the following elements:

  • Custom feature images for your articles
  • Relevant images in blog posts to illustrate points and break up text
  • Infographics for statistical content
  • Video – it doesn’t have to be expensive these days
  • Data visualisations
  • Strong social visuals

Visual content is where too many brands take shortcuts. Thankfully, the days of stock photography are almost behind us but shoddy graphics are still all over the web. Which is actually a good thing, because you can set yourself apart by investing in some quality visuals.

#7: Go mobile-first

Mobile-first is one of the most important design philosophies to emerge over the last ten years. As the name suggests, it’s an approach to design that focuses on mobile first and then scales up for larger devices.

This is important because smaller devices have more usage restrictions. So prioritising mobile creates a more consistent (and better performing) experience across all devices.

You should apply the same philosophy to your content strategy as well. If all of your content is designed for desktop, then you’re neglecting a large section of your audience. While content designed for mobile is easily accessible on all devices.

You don’t want to forget about other devices entirely. You still want to create longer, in-depth articles, for example, as they generally perform better in search. But putting mobile as your priority simply means more of your content will be optimised for all devices and accessible to everyone.

#8: Publish in the right places

Once you’re publishing a variety of content, you’ll find different types are better suited to certain channels. For example, tutorial videos tend to perform better on YouTube than Facebook while industry news features are better placed on your blog, LinkedIn or a third-party site.

What you don’t want to do is choose too many channels to work at once. It’s better to focus on a couple of social networks and get them right than underperform across five. You can can always add more networks once you start hitting targets.

Facebook is the first option for many because its audience is huge but you can also publish a wide range of content. It’s also the obvious choice is you want to promote though paid advertising. But don’t make assumptions based on other content strategies – choose the best platforms for you and the people you’re trying to reach.

#9: Get back to guest blogging

Guest blogging got itself a bad name once people started using it to buy and swap links. The result was a lot of awful content being promoted all over the web but Google started clamping down on this.

Unfortunately for guest blogging, its reputation was badly damaged. A lot of content publishers stopped approaching third party sites and many site owners were too afraid to publish content written by others.

Guest blogging is making a comeback, though, as publishers start to see the benefits in it again. Rather than a spam link building strategy, it’s a way to get your content in front of an entirely new audience – one that might be interested in your brand.

So pick sites relevant to your industry, with large audiences of their own, and try to become a regular contributor. Get in involved with comments and other articles on these sites, interact with their audiences and consider it a branding exercise. You may even generate some natural leads this way and you’ll certainly be building a name for yourself.

#10: Let the links come to you

And, finally, we come to the golden ticket of content marketing. They’re still incredibly important to the way search engines rank pages and the marketing community is still obsessed with them. The trouble is they’re harder to get than ever and trying too hard could get you slapped by a search penalty.

If you’re following the rest of the steps we’ve looked at in this article, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. With the kind of content strategy we’ve been describing today you should be naturally earning links because your content is good enough.

It won’t happen overnight and that’s absolutely fine. Content marketing is a long-term strategy and patience is a vital asset. You can fill the gaps with paid advertising (AdWords, Facebook, etc.) until your content strategy matures – so don’t waste your time trying to take shortcuts. They don’t work.

Hopefully, that gives you an idea of what it takes to create a content strategy that actually sells. It’s no easy feat but most brands make it look more difficult than it actually is. Go back to the basics, invest what it takes to get the quality right and things start coming together.