Is there a single formula for content marketing success?

The number of content marketing articles circulating online, each promising you the key to success, can be baffling - and here lies the problem. 

That same key does not unlock content marketing success for all businesses across all industries.

How can it?

The local library offers a very different service with (arguably) a very different target audience to the bar just down the street.

A ‘one size fits all’ approach to content marketing will only allow you to scratch the surface of what you could be achieving.

So how do you find the 'size' that's right for you?

What is content marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:

“a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Drawing on the key points, your content marketing should be strategic, focused, valuable, and relevant, with a clearly defined audience in mind.

Which again begs the question, how can one size possibly fit all?

What your clearly defined audience deems valuable and relevant very much depends upon the product or service you offer and the industry you operate in.

This common, one size fits all assumption is just that, an assumption.

LinkedIn and BuzzSumo teamed up to explore this assumption and the elements that drive content marketing reach, authority and return on investment across 10 different industries.

The end report, The DNA Behind the World’s Most Successful Content, advocates that content marketing success evolves through understanding the relevant formula for your target audience and selecting the right combination of triggers for engagement, authority, and sharing.

Here we'll take a look at some of the most significant and actionable points.

Content marketing objectives

Firstly, you must consider the objective of your content marketing piece.

Do you want it to create immediate impact, interest and excitement that drives short-term reach and engagement?

Or do you want to establish enduring authority and influence that will keep drawing relevant people to your business and your content over a longer period?

Steve Rayson, director at BuzzSumo and Jason Miller, global content marketing leader at LinkedIn, outline two metrics which can be used to capture the success of these two different content marketing objectives; shares and backlinks.

Content that gets the most shares, doesn’t necessarily generate the most backlinks (and vice versa) – hence content marketing objectives being an important starting point.

Content shares

As a fellow marketer, I understand all too well the need to be able to relate marketing activity to ROI, and unfortunately, social media sharing is a sketchy metric.

But when it comes to content marketing, social sharing strongly suggests that you have created a piece of content that your target audience deems valuable and relevant enough to pass on to others.

This metric is even more important if you’re investing in paid social media marketing. The number of shares can either prove or disprove the relevance of your content, and the more shares your content receives, the bigger the reach.

Sketchy metric or not, if your objective is to drive immediate buzz, excitement and interest, the number of shares is a sound measurement of success.

Content backlinks

Again, while a sketchy metric in terms of ROI, backlinks indicate that your content is establishing authority. So much so that others are embedding links to your content within their own sites.

If your objective is to establish lasting authority and influence within your industry, the measurement of backlinks is a good indicator of the long-term relevance of your piece and will work wonders for your organic search rankings.

There are several online tools available to measure backlinks, such as SEMrush, Majestic and Moz Link Explorer.

Sector-specific content

Marketers need to take a sector-specific approach to their business’s content marketing strategy – a key take away from this report.

It is suggested that five key elements make up the perfect ‘content formula’, those being topic, headline, format, type of content, and length - but these are prone to change from industry to industry.

Examples as follows:

  • For top-performing marketing related posts, format and type of content had the most significant impact on the number of social shares

  • For a technology audience, however, the choice of topic has much more impact on the success of the post than the format and type of content

Unfortunately, what works well for one industry may fall flat on its face for another.

So how can you be sure what is going to work well for you and your business?

The findings of this report provide a clear framework for identifying the ‘content formula’ that will bring your business the most success.

The 7-step plan

1. Draw up a list of ‘hot topics’ for your industry

2. Set your objectives and pinpoint which content will drive social shares, and which will build authority via backlinks – ideally incorporating both objectives into your content plan

3. Do your research on the types of content that your industry values the most, i.e. blog posts, checklists, eBooks?

4. Be ready to experiment with different formats to gauge the response. Blog posts tick the box in your industry, but in what format? ‘How to’ posts? Case studies? Infographics?

5. Mix it up when it comes to the length of your content. Different industries will find their own sweet spots, and it all comes down to trial and error. Try shorter posts for news and opinion pieces, but don’t be afraid to create longer posts when you have something valuable and unique to share

6. Pack a punch with your headline – this is your chance to sell what your content has to offer your audience and must accurately reflect the purpose of your piece

7. Select the most relevant platforms for social sharing. B2B, perhaps it’s LinkedIn? B2C, try Twitter and/or Facebook

Realistically, there isn’t really a single, failsafe formula for content marketing success.

Cracking the code for your business and your industry very much relies on research, forward planning, and good old trial and error – and if you do it right, you’ll do it well.

Read the full report from LinkedIn and BuzzSumo here.

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