Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses: An Austin Copywriter White Paper

introduction to content marketing for small businesses whitepaper

Are you a small business owner interested in learning more about content marketing? If you’ve heard that content marketing is a good way to promote your business and improve your brand reputation, but want to learn more before you get started, this white paper lays out some of the basics.

Content marketing allows your business to attract new customers and develop relationships with current customers by offering something of value to them.

With this white paper, An Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses, you can get a feel for whether or not you’re ready to get started developing and deploying a content strategy for your business.

If you have questions, feedback, or would like some help developing quality content to promote your business, feel free to contact me at kristen@austin-copywriter.com.

What Popular Podcasts Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

A little over a year ago when I purchased Carbonite, a program that creates an automatic, online backup of your computer, I made sure to use the Nerdist promo code. Not only did it earn me some kind of discount (I don’t remember the particulars), but I knew it was a way for a free podcast I like to get a little extra monetary support.

People appreciate free content. That’s not exactly a controversial statement. In fact, many have determined that members of my generation, and especially those a few years younger than me, don’t appreciate the value of content and just won’t pay for it. Period.

I don’t think that’s true. I know I’m not the only who’s made a point of thinking of a piece of free content I like when making an associated purchase. Popular podcasts like the Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, and Doug Loves Movies all thrive in part due to sponsors, and their listeners’ willingness to support those sponsors – with a nod to the podcast’s help in sending them there.

Notably, the comedians at the center of each of the podcasts mentioned have also seen their careers blow up due to the popularity of their free podcasts.

What still sounds counter-intuitive to some now feels like old news to many: providing something people value for free can be a good way to make money.

That’s pretty much the definition of content marketing, and there are a number of wildly popular podcasts out there that do a good job of demonstrating just how well content marketing can work.

I wrote this post not as a way to encourage businesses to make podcasts as a form of content marketing, although that may be a good move for your business, but rather to point out these two notable lessons that businesses can learn from popular podcasts:

1) People appreciate free content and, by extension, the businesses and brands that help make it free.

If you’re in the camp that thinks young people won’t pay for content they like – just look at the Veronica Mars kickstarter campaign. I’m betting the popular show about high schoolers didn’t raise all that dough exclusively from people in their 30’s and up. I don’t think people have lost their understanding that it takes money to produce the content they like. I think instead, they’ve become pickier about what content they feel is worth paying for and have different ideas of what paying for content looks like.

Many people, myself amongst them, have “cut the cord” when it comes to cable, and trust the internet to bring us all the tv that we think is worth our time. Most cord cutters are tolerant, perhaps more so than our cable-subscribing brethren, of the commercials that play during shows made available online. We recognize that this is the cost of free content – a few minutes of ads per episode. On the other hand, the cost of a monthly cable subscription, which would buy us more shows and channels than we care to watch, seems wasteful.

What does this have to do with your business and content marketing?

It speaks to the psychology behind how people view the things they liked. Not too many people will go out of their way to buy something just because they see it in association with content they find valuable — but if it’s something they already need (or might need sometime down the line), that product gains a serious edge against competitors. By associating your business with a brand they already like, or becoming that brand via quality content that you develop, you become the Carbonite that someone is happy to choose because it not only gains them a good product, but helps fuel the content they value.

2) Good, free content is a powerful tool to build up your reputation.

As previously mentioned, most of the comics behind popular podcasts have credited the podcast with career resurgences – from more people at their live shows to tv hosting gigs to sitcom and movie offers – much of which likely would have never happened without investing time in offering something entertaining for free. The podcasts made them more recognizable and built up a fan base that has ensured them revenue from a number of other means, besides the podcast sponsorships themselves.

By the same token, Copyblogger‘s extremely successful business model was to become the leading authority on creating valuable content…as a way to sell software.  The connection between point A and point B isn’t a simple, direct line, and building a reputation like the one they have takes a lot of time and a large investment in good writers. Nonetheless, they’ve built a fabulously successful business off a foundation of content that people love.

The moral of these various stories is: don’t be stingy! It can be hard to wrap your head around profiting off of giving something valuable away for free, but there are plenty of models out there that show, if done well, it works.

Content Marketing in 2013

That content marketing is a growing force is no surprise to anyone who follows trends in marketing. Blog posts and articles citing the benefits quality content has on branding, SEO and customer loyalty abound.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to be able to match some numbers to all the talk. Business Bolts performed a survey of 265 individuals, a mix of small business owners and marketing professionals, in order to gain a sense of how businesses are approaching content marketing in 2013.

You can find the full report on their findings here.

Most of the results aren’t especially surprising, but serve to back up arguments copywriters, marketers and SEO professionals have been making for some time:
content marketing trends

  • Content marketing is good for SEO

77% of respondents said content marketing helped increase web traffic, and 71% said it helped them achieve higher rankings

  • Content marketing is good for ROI

Although there are challenges in many cases to tracking the relationship between content marketing and sales, 59% said they believed that content marketing helped them up their sales numbers.

  • Content marketing strengthens brand awareness

70% reported this benefit, another that’s hard to track, but crucial for small business success.

The good news for freelance writers and content developers: many respondents expressed a desire to find good content producers.

The bad news: few have made content production a high budget item. Most (61%) reported still doing the majority of their content development in house, but of those that worked with freelancers the amount they’re paying is piddling. 14% spend less than $15 for 1,000 words, and 17% spend between $16 and $25.

It’s clear that businesses have a growing awareness of the benefit good content provides. Hopefully, their willingness to value those helping them reap that benefit will increase in time as well.

Freelancing in 2012: The Industry Report

The 2012 Freelance Industry Report, put together by Ed Gandia, is a valuable resource for any current freelancer, or anyone considering branching out into freelance work.

There’s evidence that the freelance sector of the professional population is large and predicted to grow rapidly. While Freelancing in 2012that might sound like extra competition, the good news is that the more people who choose freelancing, the more politicians and society at large will have to pay attention and start improving the options available to self-employed workers.

With a sample set of nearly 1,500 freelancers in a variety of fields, the report’s data provides a useful snapshot of important information and trends relevant to the self-employed.

Some key points of interest:

  • 90% of freelancers report being happier freelancing than they were before leaving their full time jobs
  • The majority of freelancers work in design and writing
  • Women make up over 70% of the freelance workforce
  • Almost half are the primary income winners in their household
  • Flexibility in work schedule was the top reason cited by respondents for choosing a freelance career
  • 10% of new freelancers earn $100 or more an hour!
  • Almost half of freelancers work with the same client for a year or more
  • Referrals and word of mouth far outrank other methods for finding clients
  • The marketing method with the largest increase in the number of respondents saying they’re planning to use it in the next year is SEO
  • Even “accidental freelancers” that were pushed into the position based on economic factors largely report that they’re happier now than when working as an employee

To read the full report, either click on the image to the right or the link at the top of the page. Trust me, it’s worth the time.

PPC (Pay Per Click) Basics

There are two main types of search engine marketing: PPC (pay per click) and SEO (search engine optimization). I’ve already covered some of the best introductory tips and resources for SEO, but PPC marketing is another one of the best sources of ROI in marketing available, especially in the period in between implementing SEO techniques on a website and beginning to see the results.

What is PPC?

To understand PPC, you first need to understand how organic search results and paid ads differ:

Organic search results – the websites that show up in the main listing of results when you perform a search in a search engine

Paid search results – the ads you see, normally located above the organic search results and to the right of them

SEO aims to get a website listed at the top of the organic results. It’s a slower and more difficult process than getting a website noticed through paid PPC ads, but it can yield huge results in the number of relevant visitors to your site.

PPC ads are much easier method to get on the first page for a search term faster, but they have a clearer immediate cost than SEO, where most of the cost comes through the time spent optimizing a webpage and linkbuilding.

Why PPC?

PPC ads are valuable in that they appear to people who are already looking for what your company has to offer (assuming you do a good job in targeting the right keywords) and you don’t have to pay every time someone sees the ad, just each time someone clicks on it. Chances are, a person who chooses to click on a PPC ad is someone coming to your site already equipped with an interest in buying the kind of product you offer, or at least doing some preliminary research into the options available with the intention of buying later.

Therefore, in comparison to other forms of advertising, the clicks you’re paying for will in most cases be fairly solid leads.

Even better, if you find that any of the ads you’re using or keywords you’re targeting tend not to produce solid leads, you have easy access to data that helps you shift your tactics and money towards the ads and keywords that provide the best results. In other words, the longer you use PPC as a form of marketing, the better your results are likely to be.

How to Get Started with PPC Marketing?

As the most commonly used search engine, Google’s the best place to start. Create a Google Adwords account and a Google Analytics account. Google provides ample information to anyone getting started with Adwords. The Google Keyword tool is an especially valuable resource for determining the best keywords to target in your ads.

Google’s not the only search engine to consider, Yahoo and Bing also offer paid search programs that can be well worth the investment.


Helpful Resources:

I’ve collected a few links for further reading that do a good job of providing useful introductory information.

Introduction to PPC

17 Most Common PPC Mistakes

7 Steps to a Perfect Pay Per Click Campaign

If you want more information, browse this page, or do some further exploration on the websites linked to above. You’ll quickly find a surplus of information to get started with a PPC campaign.