Whether you’re new to content marketing or an absolute industry veteran, you’ve to wonder from time to time: what are the content marketing best practices?
This thought is rooted primarily in anxiety, but it’s also rooted in goodwill. Basically, you want to know, “am I doing the right things?”
The problem is most of what we call content marketing best practices are merely common practices. “Best” practices are contingent on the specific context in which you’re operating.
However, from first principles we can definitely come up with some content marketing “must haves” that will anchor you in the right direction.
And no, I’m not talking about the fluffy, vague advice you often hear like “create valuable content” or “be authentic.”
I’m talking about the real, actionable steps you need to take to create and distribute effective content that will help you achieve your business goals.
13 Content Marketing Best Practices
Here are thirteen content marketing best practices that you need to follow:
- Know your goals
- Know thyself
- Know thy audience
- Start with strategy
- Create awesome content
- Create more awesome content
- Leave room for experimentation
- Promote your content effectively
- Engage with your audience
- Be interesting
- Build a growth model
- Test your assumptions
- Measure and optimize your results
1. Know your goals
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca
Or if you prefer, a quote from Alice in Wonderland:
Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Many people embark on the content marketing journey without a specific goal. They do cargo cult marketing, copying what their competitors are doing or what HubSpot is doing.
Content marketing can accomplish many feats:
- Driving product user signups
- Driving lead generation
- Increasing brand awareness
- Increasing retention or expansion
- Helping customers understand the product
It’s also subject to economic constraints: often, the more you invest, the more you get out of the channel (and it’s often a superlinear growth curve).
Ask yourself, “what do I want and how fast do I want to go?”
Your answers to these questions will help you form a content marketing strategy unique to you that you can actually win.
2. Know thyself
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Before you start doing competitor analysis or god-forbid start writing content, you should know your own strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities.
We start every client engagement at our agency with a SWOT analysis. This includes a ton of research on your brand point of view, economic and psychological constraints, and the state of the space in which you’re operating.
If you, for example, are a new startup competing with incumbents like Intercom and HubSpot, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to compete with them using the same SEO playbook. They’ll simply outpace and outspend you.
However, perhaps you have a contrarian product angle or solve a unique pain point. Maybe you have an influential founder who has clout in a given social media platform.
You can hinge on these unique attributes to essentially outflank your competitors.
3. Know thy audience
Look, I’m not going to tell you that you need to spend months creating buyer personas or customer personas. This is often a productive procrastination activity, and marketers mess up personas all the time.
But you do need to know your audience.
Your audience is not just the eventual buyers of the product, either. It’s also, depending on your business model, the IT and legal teams that need to review the purchase, the end users who need to get functionality of your product, and of course, the person who signs the check.
If you’re really good at content marketing, you can also include the influencers and people that your target audience trusts and follows.
For example, at Omniscient, we hope to reach director and VP level marketers at high scale B2B companies. But we also want to incorporate the influencers these people follow into our marketing, so we host podcasts with people like Dave Gerhardt and Peep Laja.
They may not be our ICP for the agency, but the people we want to reach follow them.
4. Start with a clear content marketing strategy.
Too many businesses start creating content without a clear plan or strategy in place.
This is a recipe for disaster.
Most businesses don’t fail with content marketing due to bad content creation or lack of content promotion. They lack a cogent strategy.
Before you start creating content, you need to know why you’re creating it, who you’re creating it for, and what you want to achieve with it.
All of the preceding points I made regarding goals and content KPIs, knowing yourself, and knowing your audience apply here.
Without a clear strategy, you’ll be creating content blindly, and you’ll likely waste a lot of time and effort on content that doesn’t achieve your goals.
Strategy doesn’t begin and end with keyword research. It’s a holistic process that takes into account your customer journey / buyer’s journey, the rest of your marketing campaigns, your goals, strengths and weaknesses, and constraints. We have a whole course on this.
5. Create awesome content
This might seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing.
Your content needs to provide value to your audience. It needs to be well-researched, well-written, and well-presented.
Frankly, it needs to stand out. There’s a lot of noise and more and more content is published every day. Yours should be useful and/or entertaining.
Now, content “quality” is subjective. You can often only guess as to the quality before you publish, and then you can use analytics and metrics to determine if it hits your goals after the fact.
But don’t just churn out mediocre content for the sake of creating something. Take the time to create content that your audience will truly find valuable.
The search engine algorithm is fickle, but it requires an actual piece of content being produced in order to rank and hit your marketing goals.
6. Create more awesome shit
Here’s where many brands fail: they product *some* good content, get *some* results, but don’t double down and create more.
Often, the biggest lever you can pull in maximizing your results is just doubling down on content creation. If you’re writing 2 blog posts per week, you should ask yourself, “how could we publish 8 blog posts per week?”
If you’re publishing 8 blog posts per week, ask yourself, “how could we double that?”
There will inevitably be a point of diminishing returns, but most brands never get close to that point.
And whether your goal is to dominate the search engine, go viral and get leads on LinkedIn, assist sales with webinars and case studies, or drive signups for your email marketing list, quantity is a must.
Most brands could amp it up and get superlinear results.
7. Leave room for experimentation
The best content marketing strategies leave open a small basket of the portfolio to experimentation.
I like to model this out using the Barbell Strategy. Stake out maybe 80% of your editorial calendar on proven and predictable bets, and then leave 20% of your actions to speculative and unpredictable plays.
It could be trying to dominate YouTube or TikTok. It could be trying out new types of content like infographics or interactive landing pages.
You don’t know if this will work, so you don’t want to commit 100% of your budget to this. But if it works, and it wins big, then you’ve unlocked a whole new avenue of growth.
Keeping room for experimentation allows for innovation, so you don’t stagnate and keep running the 2005 content marketing playbook forever.
8. Promote your content effectively.
Publishing content is only half the battle. If you want to drive traffic, you have to make sure people actually see it (tree falls in the forest and all that)
This means promoting your content on the right channels, at the right times, and to the right people.
Don’t just publish your content and hope that people will find it. Put in the effort to promote it effectively.
Content promotion is unique to your strategy. You don’t want to spread yourself thin, trying to promote everywhere.
If you’re driving organic traffic, backlinks and publication velocity will be your biggest levers.
If you want podcast listeners, try creating small clips of video content to spread on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media networks.
If your content formats allow it, you can repurpose blog posts into written responses on forums like Reddit, Quora, and Slack communities.
As you scale, promotion becomes easier and easier because you’ll have an audience and a brand moat. When you’re starting out, you’ll need to index a lot more heavily on content promotion.
9. Engage with your audience.
Your content marketing efforts shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. You need to engage with your audience and foster a sense of community around your content.
This means responding to comments, answering questions, and encouraging discussion.
By engaging with your audience, you’ll build trust and credibility, and you’ll also get valuable feedback and insights that can help you improve your content.
One thing I like to do is spend a lot of time in Slack communities. This helps me understand customer pain points and I can answer them directly in the community with relevant content.
10. Be interesting
Successful content is interesting content, especially in a noisy world with a million options and competitors (including YouTube and TikTok competing for your audience’s attention).
Even the stodgiest B2B brands need to create some sort of a hook that causes a potential reader to stop and say, “huh, that’s interesting. I MUST click this.”
While I can’t tell you how to be interesting (this depends on your business, audience demographics and psychographics, and more), the bottom line is you need to differentiate and intrigue your audience, no matter what channel you’re using.
Sometimes it’s as simple as creating an incredibly useful piece of content. It doesn’t necessarily need to be flashy, sensational, and clickbait.
11. Build a growth model
Recently, we were chatting with a huge figure in the content marketing space. We were talking about our approach to content and they called it “mathy.”
Content marketers can benefit from tools used by growth practitioners and PMs, namely the organic growth model.
This simple exercise, while not perfect, helps you understand the machine as a whole. It helps tell you, if you put $1 in, how many dollars can you expect to get out of it, and in what time frame.
This is the type of stuff your CMO wants to see. This is what helps you get buy-in for bigger initiatives and new content.
12. Test your assumptions
One of my favorite content marketing tips to keep in mind, especially after you’ve had some success, is this: test your assumptions.
Don’t be too confident you know what you’re doing.
When I was at HubSpot, I found a keyword with extremely low search volume. It barely made it on the content calendar.
After it was published, it quickly ranked and had one of the highest conversion rates on the blog as a whole (this is among thousands and thousands of blog posts published over a decade).
Even after years spent working on content, I don’t have prescience as to what will and won’t work. I can guess to a certain degree, but I always maintain humility. And if it doesn’t cost much to test it, it’s probably worth doing.
13. Measure and optimize your results.
Finally, you need to measure the performance of your content and make data-driven decisions to improve its effectiveness.
This means tracking key metrics like traffic, engagement, and conversions, and using this data to optimize your content and your content marketing strategy. You can easily set up Google Analytics to track this stuff.
Don’t just create content and forget about it.
Continuously measure and optimize your results to make sure you’re getting the most out of your content marketing efforts.
Many marketers forget about proactively updating and optimizing old content. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit here. You’ve already put in the effort to create great content; might as well make sure it’s ranking and driving results.
There are no universal content marketing best practices, but there are general guidelines and first principles.
Understand that I can’t lay out your entire plan for you (unless you work with my agency). This requires individual attention and focus. Craft a plan that works just for you.
Start with a clear strategy, create high-quality content, promote it effectively, engage with your audience, and measure and optimize your results.
By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your business goals with content marketing.