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Originally Posted On: https://www.halfpastnine.io/insights/b2b-content-marketing-strategy
Welcome to Chapter 2 of A Master Guide To B2B Content Marketing; Strategy, Execution, Results!.
In this chapter, we will explore B2B marketing content strategy for your owned channels. That is, organic content for sharing on your own accounts without paid promotion.
Owned channels are typically your:
- Website – Your primary publishing tool, where all content distribution should link back to.
- Social Media Accounts + Email Platform – These organic channels should feature for website content distribution and promotion.
This forms the essential foundation for any paid media strategies you add later.
There’s so much choice in terms of creating content. Without a structured approach, how do you know where to start, what will deliver the desired results, and how to prioritize your resources?
Here are 9 steps to put into practice for forming the foundations of your B2B content marketing strategy, adjustable for whatever level of sophistication and complexity you currently have requirements or resources for.
Chapter 3 will then cover how to create your content assets by channel.
In this chapter:
- Get Clear on Organizational Objectives
- Build Informative Customer Personas
- Define Your Brand Identity + Messaging
- Map Out Content Requirements
- Build Your B2B Website + SEO Strategy
- Choose the Right Topical Focus
- Use Calls To Action
- Use KPIs
- Audit Content + Repurpose
- Use a Content Approval + Archive Process
- Optimize Your CRM Utilization
1. Get Clear on Organizational Objectives
Before you invest any time or money, check in with your organization’s overall financial and growth objectives. Request up to date information from your executive team if this hasn’t already been shared.
You’ll need to be clear on specifics such as the following:
- What sort of business model is your content marketing supporting?
- How much revenue growth and customer acquisition does your executive team want to achieve?
- What growth opportunities are the biggest focus?
- Do you need to build an audience at scale, or run highly targeted account-based marketing?
- How much of your customer base comes from referral or personal networks, and what content is required to encourage and support that process?
- Do you need to help retain more existing customers, or promote up-selling or cross-selling initiatives to specific customers?
- What are the financial constraints?
- What is required from key teams, and how will they have to work together to deliver the objectives?
Being clear on high level objectives will allow you to set clear goals and identify KPIs to track progress.
Bear in mind that it’s possible to have a big audience without many of those people converting into customers. An audience member can have much further to go than someone actively looking for a solution, which is why B2B content marketing conversion rates can be low. Converting someone from a follower to a customer is often a long game that takes consistent effort, building brand awareness so that you are the preferred supplier when the opportune moment does arise.
Not every business actually needs a large audience. However, it can be powerful for expanding your brand’s reach, boosting your influence and authority. Even if it’s only a small percentage of your followers who are actually customers. Just be clear about what you need to achieve and why. It will optimize your time, budget, and help show you up in the best possible light among your internal stakeholders.
Do document all of the elements of your content strategy so everyone in the team is working with a shared vision and long term goals won’t fall through the cracks due to day-to-day priorities.
2. Build Informative Customer Personas
Your content strategy should always be built upon audience insights so the next step is to create clearly defined customer personas. Personas are the main audience segments or cohorts where needs and behaviors are distinctly similar.
Personas will help you map clear content flows to move leads from awareness to conversion based on specific pain points, needs and motivations. They will help you assess how much content investment is required for each audience segment, what content to create, and how to deliver it. You can even build them for individual customers if you focus heavily on account-based marketing.
It’s a good idea to use data from your best customers for this exercise, which will help you better target and cater for the ideal type of client that you want to attract more of.
Stick to the most relevant information for your target audience only. Don’t create more personas than strictly necessary. And the more concise your personas are, the easier they will be to use effectively. Remember, you are looking to pull out distinct differences between your audience segments.
For B2B, you can build 2 types of personas:
- Enterprise Personas – These capture the overarching organizational-level setups that drive most B2B buying decisions.
- Buyer Personas – An individual buyer persona will tell you what motivates an individual person within a categorized role.
Matched enterprise persons with individual personas can help you reach a deeper level of customer understanding. There will likely be some differences in buyer personas that match to enterprise personas if you cover a spectrum of industries or company sizes. This exercise will allow you to provide highly personalized content, giving you a significant edge over competitors who don’t develop or demonstrate the same depth of company and buyer understanding.
Give each of your personas a unique name to make them memorable, like ‘Not-for-Profit Game-changer’ or ‘Microfinance Growth Pioneer’, and ‘Lisa the Engineer’ or ‘Brandon the Executive Assistant’.
There are seven categories you can use to effectively define an enterprise persona:
- Firmographic – Basic organizational demographics, including industry vertical, staff headcount, annual revenue, location(s), date established, and legal business structure.
- Business + Operating Model – How an organization operates, which could include transaction volume, pricing model, ecosystem model, etc.
- Technographic – The mix of technologies currently in use by the organization, including how they deliver services and internal administration. Are there any technology related considerations for their business when purchasing your solution?
- Situational – The relevant situational elements that can impact purchasing requirements, processes and decisions. That could include profitability, growth rate, industry events driving changes, new initiatives, acquisitions, or regulatory changes. You can take inspiration from the PESTLE analysis model.
- Psychographic – What values, motivations and goals lie behind purchasing decisions, and how purchasing decisions are made. Departmental and team structure data will be helpful, including the size of teams. Include typical job titles for the main buyer roles.
- Resources – The resources the organization has, including talent, available cash or equity, and any government or industry body support available.
- Customer Representation – Allocate a percentage to each enterprise persona in terms of how much of your current customer base they currently represent, and what percentage of your target customer base they should optimally represent.
Not every category may be relevant, just stick to what is.
Here are seven helpful categories to flesh out your customer personas at an individual level:
- Demographic – What job title does this audience segment have, what department do they sit within, and what is their primary role in the purchasing process? What types of enterprise persona do they work for? Which stages of the customer journey do they have most involvement with? You could also allocate a typical age bracket here, as this may have an impact on content format preferences, use of language and communication style.
- Influence Level – Rate this from high, medium or low, and allocate an overarching role category such as Influencer, Information Gatekeeper, Decision Maker or End User.
- Motivators + Purchasing Criteria – What are the primary needs, desires and goals of this audience segment? If they are a Decision Maker, what criteria do they use to make the best decision?
- Pain Points + Purchasing Barriers – What challenges do they typically face within their role, and also within the purchasing process? How do those challenges affect them on a personal level, including psychologically and emotionally? Which factors would be most likely to derail the purchasing process, or likelihood of your brand being chosen? Include technology related factors here too, if relevant.
- Knowledge Level – In terms of your offering, how much knowledge does this persona tend to have? Do they have any knowledge gaps around your offering, and what technical level of understanding do they require?
- Psychographic – What is the buyer’s communication style – do they like to meet in person, speak over telephone, VC, or email? What level of education do they have? What kind of language do they use? How do they prefer to consume industry news and purchasing content? What content channels do they like to use (online & offline), and what type of content do they engage with and share most?
- Customer Representation – Finally, can you allocate a percentage to each persona for how many contacts in your CRM database they currently represent – and what percentage of your CRM database they should ideally represent?
To complete these personas, there are obviously multiple internal and external sources or channels you’ll need to collect and analyze data. Your sales team and CRM data should be a helpful part of this process (hopefully!). Do combine quantitative and qualitative data, gathering input from client-facing staff across your organization. You might want to use a customer survey, even during on-boarding as a matter of process, plus your audience insights tools and perhaps third-party data.
3. Define Your Brand Identity + Messaging
Based on your customer personas, you can better define or refine your brand messaging. This is essential to build a brand identity which resonates deeply with your audience. Align all elements to your audience, reflecting back their typical characteristics, needs, values and behaviors.
Pull together the following brand identity elements:
- Competitive brand positioning with an elevator pitch and company-wide UVPs – these are core brand messages that should guide marketing content.
- Mission and values, related directly to your customers.
- Tone of voice, or brand personality.
- Evergreen keywords you want your website domain to rank for, covering both non-branded and branded keywords.
- UVPs for each of your distinct business streams, services or products.
Document a brand identity guide, which can form part of a wider brand book. All marketing & sales staff, agency staff and freelance writers should be familiarized with such documents and have easy access to them for daily use.
Consistent use will create a unique and easily recognizable brand identity among your audience, making your brand distinctively stand out for what you want to be known for.
4. Map Out Content Requirements
For each of your personas, how many content touch points do they need for each customer journey stage? Look at the stages they have most responsibility for or influence over, and allocate more touch points and tailored information to that stage.
Your end goal is multiple cross-channel content touch points that will work together to create nurturing sequences, progressing buyers through their journey to a sales conversion.
Group your content mapping into the 3 main sales funnel stages:
- Top of the Funnel (ToFU) – Awareness
- Middle of the Funnel (MoFU) – Interest + Consideration
- Bottom of the Funnel (BoFU) – Decision Making + Action
Here’s an overview of what you need to achieve at each relevant stage across the complete customer lifecycle:
- Awareness – Help buyers build their own awareness around internal challenges and the types of solutions. There may not be intent to purchase a solution yet. Take inspiration from how informed customers describe their challenges and goals, which will allow you to demonstrate leading expertise and authority in your niche. Some form of digital engagement and call to action is necessary to help move leads into the interest stage of the digital sales funnel.
- Interest – Your buyers are starting to pull together a list of potential solutions for their challenge. They are interested in the pros and cons of different solutions, and may not have narrowed down on potential suppliers yet. You should explain the value of your brand and unique offering, detailing quality, experience, features, the relevant differentiators from competitors, addressing any common misconceptions about solutions. Engage visitors on your owned channels and identify leads with PII data capture tactics such as from form fills and a newsletter signup. Use available data to qualify leads who have reached the interest stage (MQLs), and flag them to your sales team.
- Consideration – At this point, buyers are proactively creating and deciding between a short-list of selected suppliers. It’s time for the hard sell with purchasing-focused content. Help buyers overcome any objections and reduce the perceived elements of risk. What needs to be done to implement your solution, and would any training be necessary? Prove that the product will solve their problems, and showcase why it outstrips competitor offerings. Depending on your conversion process, your sales team should ideally be in contact at this point. If the conversion process requires a project scope and proposal, use a brand compliance process for all prepared documents.
- Action – Provide all purchasing information or eCommerce functionality needed to easily take action and complete a sale. Support the conversion process with on-boarding content, such as how to contact customer support, and details about your customer portal if you have one. Your sales and account teams will have more responsibility here, interfacing with finance or legal staff, but you can support the process by ensuring that any content they develop stays on brand.
- Loyalty – This is the part where you turn users into fans! Content plays an important role in customer satisfaction, brand engagement and customer loyalty. Keep up the engagement effort, and work with your sales and account teams to identify up-selling, cross-selling or re-engagement nurturing opportunities. Include invites to internal or external events and forums to keep the relationship social. Consider customer surveys to ensure you are meeting needs, and take suggestions on board where viable.
- Advocacy – Make it easy for customers to share thought leadership content with others. Leverage positive CX with word-of-mouth marketing. That could include asking your happy customers to submit a review on a preferred third-party platform, provide a short testimonial, or permission to create a case study with testimonial quotes. You could even ask a particularly good client to join you at speaking engagements to discuss best-practice execution in your field, or create an incentivized referral program.
Now you’re ready to move onto the task of a detailed content map for the requirements of each customer persona. You can and should tie this in with customer journey mapping, for which there are software tools available to help like Smaply or Funnelytics.
With a content matrix or roadmap, you can plot content requirements for each persona at each stage of the customer journey, focussed on where they have most involvement in the process. Use a preferred mapping tool or create a simple chart for documenting it. Include the key platforms, content needs and messages for each point.
TIP: When it comes to content production, start at the bottom of the funnel and work backwards, particularly with website landing pages for your individual solutions. This will help you capture high intent leads already searching for those solutions now, and provide a content sales funnel for any high intent website traffic that your ToFU content brings in.
As the customer journey deepens down a sales funnel, the content required will typically decrease in volume and increase in lifespan.
Buyer role-based motivators you need to speak to could typically be:
- Initiators – If the initiator is a manager, a primary motivator may be gaining more visibility on what their team does, better progress measurement and improved data for decision making. A management or project dashboard displaying KPI metrics could be a big selling point, enabling them to deliver in front of their bosses. They may need resources to sell their preferred solution to the top-level decision makers.
- Influencers – Influencers could include IT, procurement or legal staff, among others. IT staff could be looking for reassurance that rolling out your product will be fast and easy with minimal staff training or troubleshooting, and won’t jeopardize data security or regulatory compliance. For procurement and legal staff, you might want to include information about flexible pricing, the project scoping process or contractual options.
- Decision Makers – Think ROI information for this type of buyer role. They will be interested in how your product improves efficiency, output or staff productivity, cuts costs, improves high-level reporting, and gives the company a competitive advantage.
- End Users – At smaller companies, your end users are more likely to play a larger part in the purchasing process. Focus on details such as ease of use, how it will eliminate the more tedious or complex aspects of what they do day-to-day, and how it will make their lives easier.
For each key piece of content in your customer journey matrix, determine the primary objectives to help you nail it. Common objectives will include:
- Influencing Thought Processes – Do you understand the challenges and goals for each customer persona? Can you detail the negative impacts they will experience without the right solution, and the consequences of inaction? Can you prove what has worked for others, and list in detail what benefits and improvements that they stand to gain? Use real-life examples or data.
- Triggering Emotion – What emotion do you want people to feel? At the awareness stage, can you draw attention to the frustrations, confusion or stress caused by lack of an appropriate solution? At interest and consideration stages, can you highlight the positive psychological and professional impacts other customers enjoyed after introducing your solution?
- Stimulating Action – Once you’ve influenced a potential buyer, what action should they take at the given stage? Do they need more detailed solution information, to share information within their team, start a free trial, or get in touch? Design effective calls to action (CTA) at every stage.
- Encourage Sharing – How can you make it easy and compelling for followers to share the message with their internal stakeholders or social networks? What are their motivations for sharing content, and can you build it accordingly?
5. Build your B2B Website + SEO Strategy
Your website is your single most important publishing tool. It’s where all content distribution channels should link back to.
Let’s walk through the important structural and SEO website elements that provide the foundation for your customer journeys.
Firstly, B2B audiences are most likely to access material from desktop devices, which is around 68% of the time. Your investments in multimedia content production should bear this in mind. However, don’t ignore mobile users. Always optimize website UX for all potential customer journeys.
Research found that 57% of people won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile website.
Start with your SEO strategy, because how your audience searches for content determines a lot.
SEO is a marathon rather than a sprint as it takes time to move up Google rankings and see results. But given that around 80% of people ignore Google ads, SEO really is your number one tool for capturing valuable search traffic. It’s absolutely necessary and worth the effort.
On-page SEO – Your use of heading tag structure, keywords, page meta description, content readability, internal + external linking and image alt tags all count towards your on-page SEO ranking.
Off-page SEO – Off-page SEO includes backlinks from other websites to your site and linked social media activity.
On publishing any new webpages, remember to submit them to Google Search Console for Indexing immediately. Especially if you use content syndication for generating backlinks.
This means Google will crawl and list your page in order for it to appear in search results. It will also distinguish your website as the original creator of the content for allocating most ranking authority too.
Blogs are perfect for non-gated website content to help boost the SEO of your brand. Regularly publishing fresh content improves your ranking on search engines, and improves your count of relevant keywords.
- Google found that 89% of B2B buyers begin their purchasing process through search.
- Most B2B researchers (71%) start their research with a non-branded search (looking for solutions rather than brands), so that’s where your keyword usage should focus.
- B2B blogs creating educational content can capture 52% more organic traffic based on audience interests and search trends.
Use a SEO tool like Semrush to help you, or Google Trends for keyword research if you don’t have budget. Paid tools will help you choose keywords more strategically, assessing where there is less competition and keyword difficulty so you can quickly appear higher in search results.
Consider which keywords demonstrate high intent so you can focus on attracting high quality traffic that is most likely to convert. You can also work with currently trending keywords, on top of the high level keywords that you want your wider website domain to rank for long term. However, don’t try to cover all bases within one article.
For each article:
- List out three to five popular variations of the search term you most want the article to rank for.
- Hit a target number of keyword repetitions
- Include the primary keyword in the URL, meta description, titles, some headings and the first couple of sentences.
- Avoid overstuffing keywords, where quality and readability is negatively impacted and search algorithms penalize the content.
Using AI, Google is ultimately assessing how helpful your content will be for users based on their searches, so always make this your north star for SEO optimization.
And a quick note on images; keywords displayed within images and graphics won’t count towards SEO. Only the image alt tags or captions can be read by search crawlers. It’s important to use your keywords in image alt tags too.
Google Search Console is an essential free tool that will help you assess and troubleshoot SEO elements on your website, including which keywords you currently rank for.
Long-tail Search Terms
Popular search terms are usually highly competitive and thus are graded high for ‘Keyword Difficulty’ on SEO research tools. If you don’t have the advantage of being one of the most highly ranked domains for these search terms, long-tail keywords are a more strategic place to start for quicker results.
Long-tail search terms are longer and more specific than the most popular search terms. They are a combination of keywords relating to a particular topic, but with lower search volumes and less competition to rank highly for them.
Long-tail searchers tend to be further along their research journey, with higher intent to purchase.
The number and quality of backlinks is perhaps the most highly weighted criteria that search algorithms use for ranking your website. Top results on Google’s first results page have 3.8x more backlinks on average than those below them.
High quality, long form content that provides genuine value gathers the most organic backlinks over time, but there are tactics to help you speed up the process.
How to gather backlinks:
1. Once your article is published on your website, submit it on Google Search Console for indexing, which is to be done right away so you are recognized as the content owner and awarded most domain authority. You can then link to the article on social platforms and potentially use content syndication, gathering legitimate backlinks with less effort.
2. Find marketing partners to help you proactively speed up the accumulation of high quality backlinks. The authority of the website domains that backlink to your site is paramount. That can range from NGO industry bodies, media publications, content syndication platforms and industry influencers. You might find non-competing businesses with a complimentary offering and similar audience demographic who are happy to partner up on mutual backlinks. You could also participate in case studies with your own suppliers.
3. For media, you’ll need to provide high quality content or interviewees that your partners are willing to publish, along with backlinks to the most relevant topical pages or homepage of your website.
Structuring B2B Websites for Customer Journeys
Structure your website content so it’s easy to find and navigate by buyer persona use cases. Use a clear site menu that makes content easy to find by topic. The more content you add, the stronger your menu structure and internal linking diligence needs to be.
A Demand Gen Report survey found that B2B buyers want vendors to organize website content by:
- Topic (56%)
- Pain point (53%)
- Industry/vertical (50%)
- Role (33%)
Consider your use of service or product pages, evergreen or pillar content, and current trends content. A mix will be required to cater for the complete customer journey. The highest volume of fresh content is required for topical ToFU stages, and also for maintaining engagement with existing customers.
Using customer journey mapping, plan content flows throughout your website. For example, if a blog reader is a potential ToFU lead, does the blog article interlink to a relevant service or product page using a call to action? And if a user does view the recommended page, does that page then provide further mid to bottom funnel content choices for the topic, such as a white paper, product sheet or case study?
The longer you can keep users navigating through your site to consume more content, the better your SEO ranking will be. And the greater the likelihood of generating prospects and leads that will convert to customers.
Use content clusters to help you plan out full coverage of relevant topics and customer content needs with an interlinking structure. This pillar structure applies to both solution landing pages and blog content.
Evergreen pillar pages provide the high-level overview details of your offering and brand messaging, promoting your UVPs at middle of the funnel (MoFU) journey stages. Pillar pages should use branded and non-branded keywords that your target audience use consistently over time and which you want your website domain to rank most highly for.
Use these pages to feature an overview of your service, with a summary of your sub-service lines or product categories presented as visually as possible, with links to sub-service or individual product landing pages.
Have strong calls to action for each webpage to move leads through the sales funnel, and also to keep the engagement rating for your website high (Google is always watching!).
This DOMO service page for finance buyers is a good example of how to create an interactive MoFU pillar page. It uses a role-specific content flow that works to encourage clicks and progress the buyer journey.
Service or Product Landing Pages
Your service lines or product ranges need their own landing pages. This allows users to quickly find information most relevant to their needs. Feature solution-specific UVPs on these pages.
This content is your first priority! Start with these pages before focussing on your ToFU content, ensuring new leads will have content to progress them through a conversion journey.
For SEO purposes, these pages allow you to focus on the high intent keywords internet users may be inputting to find vendors. They can help the highest intent traffic find you if you select the best-fit keywords. These may or may not include branded keywords, so use a mix of both where appropriate.
Referring to the content pillar diagram above, such pages should act as category pages to curate more detailed content specific to that offering, from topical articles to testimonials and guidebooks.
Blog posts about current industry and tech trends are your go-to content format for attracting and growing an engaged audience at ToFU stages. They are your number one tool for building brand awareness, whether through SEO or social and email distribution.
Long form blogs will generate 9x more leads than shorter blogs, so focus on providing as much content value as possible. We’ll cover more on optimal length and formats for blog articles in Chapter 3.
Blog topical focus:
- Pillar Topics – Create pillar blog articles covering your most important, high level topics holistically. Link these out to shorter cluster blogs that contain supporting contextual information, detail or sub-trends. This approach tends to rank better than lots of shorter pieces under Google’s topical expertise-oriented search algorithm. Search engines prioritize content that fully explains a concept and stands the test of time.
- Trending Topics – may have a relatively short life span, or need to be kept updated with the latest data for longevity.
- Keywords – Your keyword focus here should be non-branded keywords that cover both long term and trending searches among your target audience. You can write blogs that lend themselves to keywords typically used at any stage of the customer journey.
- Structure – Do create tags for key topics within your blog so users can easily find more of the topical content they’re interested in.
A newsletter sign-up form works well at the side or footer of your blog pages for capturing lead data. Blog pages are also an ideal place to feature social sharing buttons, making it effortless for engaged customers to share your great insights.
As a rule of thumb, content with the highest action intent should be gated, meaning it requires a contact form to be filled for access. Engaged leads are more likely to share their personal data for detailed, high value information.
B2B buyers say they are most willing to share their contact data for:
- Webinars (51%)
- Research reports (50%)
- White papers (48%)
- eBooks (44%)
Top of the funnel (ToFU) content should be mostly ungated to increase engagement, shareability and SEO impact.
Mid to bottom of the funnel (MoFU & BoFU) should include a mix of gated content to assist you in capturing leads’ PII data.
Campaign Landing Pages
Landing pages are typically used for gated content and should offer high value in exchange for visitors’ PII data. This tactic is used by 68% of B2B businesses to acquire leads.
SEO is not usually the goal of these pages, and they don’t have to be included in your site menu. They’re most commonly used to support data capture for advertising, social media or PR campaigns. Campaign landing pages should be especially built for the individual campaign content that links back to it. Users who land on this page should find more detailed content directly relevant to the promoted link they just clicked on, with one simple call to action tailored for the journey stage.
Typical types of gated (form-fill) content are white paper, e-book, guidebook, trend report, market analysis, webinar or event registration.
Include a summary of the content to demonstrate value, increasing the likelihood that buyers will be willing to share their data in exchange. Don’t ask for more than 3-5 pieces of information – studies consistently show that longer forms suppress conversion rates. A lead-qualifying question is a good idea to include for granting access to gated content (see more in section 11).
Personalized Customer Portals
45% of buyers say they want a personalized content portal to help them find relevant content.
Building a customer portal for your website is an ideal means for housing premium gated content. Once a customer has shared their PII data, they have access to all your gated content without any more form filling required, and can subscribe for notifications. You also have the opportunity to provide personalized content recommendations, with many content recommendation engine tools available to optimize according to evolving preferences.
If you go down this route, bear in mind that 77% of people prefer to use social logins rather than creating a password. Make it very easy for people to provide their data with universal login options.
If possible, sync up your customer portal with your CRM platform so that content consumption data can be used for lead scoring and segmentation. It could also double up with a customer support portal to improve CX and loyalty. An overwhelming 72% of surveyed customers expect support staff to know who they are, what they’ve purchased, and have insight into previous communications.
See top customer portal software available.
6. Choose the Right Topical Focus
As with all aspects of developing content, do refer back to your customer persona research, not overlooking your end users or influencers in favor of decision makers only.
The topical focus should vary for customer journey stages:
- ToFU (top of funnel), is about creating brand awareness through topical authority. Trends, analysis and research pieces, best practice guides and ‘How-to’ content is perfect for ToFU where education and staying up to date is a primary driver for B2B buyers. Speak to pain points and frustrations, help build understanding around challenges and the types of solutions or approaches that are available. Your content should be consistently branded to help build brand awareness, although sales messaging is absolutely not the main focus at this stage.
- MoFU (middle of funnel) is when you can speak more about your brand’s specific solutions and differentiators. At this stage, awareness around the challenge and types of solutions has been developed to some extent, and your aim is to technically differentiate your brand among your competitors’ offerings.
- BoFU (bottom of funnel) requires detailed information about your offering such as checklists, your typical delivery strategy, support provision included, ROI information, and proof that you can deliver on your promises, etc. Depending on your offering, it would be appropriate to offer a trial or discuss typical project scoping and implementation processes. Customer testimonials, case studies and success stories are a must for influencing decision makers.
At every stage, use simple definitions, explanations, and examples your audience can relate to.
For ToFU content, let keyword research, industry media, hashtag research, social listening, and in-house or partner expert opinions be your guide. Poll your audience for what trends or topics they want you to cover next. Also check out your competitors or industry bodies for a little topical inspiration. And don’t be afraid to be the leader introducing a new conversation topic from time to time. Everyone is interested in what trendsetters and forward-thinkers have to say!
Remember Google’s EAT matrix, which is the foundation for their search algorithm, standing for:
Naturally, do stick to ToFU topics which can be directly related to your business offering so you can lead into brief calls to action. However, you can also touch on slightly broader business challenges your buyers commonly face if you have something valuable to say. For example, you could be a software provider sharing how your business successfully navigates a hybrid remote-working policy.
Whatever your topical angle, do remember this: 96% of buyers said that B2B vendors could improve the quality of thought leadership (ToFU) content by curbing the sales messages.
Now for a quick zip-through of approaches you could take for producing topical ToFU content:
- ‘How to’ guides to solve specific (known) problems, or what to avoid.
- Best-practice overview guides that help customers build greater awareness around their pain points + challenges.
- Surveys + original research.
- Market trend reports + analysis using external data.
- Expert interviews, guest authors and opinion pieces.
- Future predictions or modeling.
- Educational explanations of concepts or technologies.
- Industry news reactions, with value-adding analysis or commentary.
Include both internal and external experts in your mix, demonstrating the breath of your perspective, professional network and industry authority.
Here are some overarching guidelines when it comes to delivering the topical focus of any content:
- Talk to Your Persona – Reflect your audiences’ own language and motivators back to them using memorable examples applicable to their roles to demonstrate your points.
- Stay on Brand – On top of brand elements from your style guide, don’t forget to refer back to your brand identity here. Do express personality within your brand’s tone of voice, appealing to people on a human level to keep your content engaging. You don’t want to be the brand equivalent of a monotone speaker at a conference who switches everyone off!
- Create Clear Headings + Structure – Use H1, H2 and H3 title tags, and anything else that helps you organize a clear structure for your messaging. Create a logical flow of information that builds up to a conclusion. Put benefits in the title, and provide compelling situational context or a summarized position at the beginning. Try coschedule.com – which rates how strong a headline is – to help you create catchy titles that pique interest and generate clicks.
- Stick to One Topic. Keep the content focused on the message or topic so you can craft clear takeaway messages. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much information in one go. Most people will only take away three to five pieces of information at a time.
- Use Clear, Concise Language – Avoid making people work hard to follow your meaning or they will click away! Not only does the ability to describe concepts in simple language convey confidence and authority, but users are likely to spend more time reading (or watching). You can use the Flesch-Kincaid grading tool to assess readability.
- Keep Sentiment Mostly Neutral – Part of thought leadership is expressing an opinion with the aim of being both knowledgeable and memorable. However, data from LinkedIn articles suggests that it could be advisable to use neutral sentiment while doing so – at least most of the time. Neutral articles get more shares and likes over articles that express ideas as either positive or negative sentiments. Neutrality in tone can be a key part of positioning your brand as an authoritative and fact-focused source that can be trusted. Back up opinion pieces with credible data or experts to support them. Your audience will feel most comfortable sharing such pieces of content that don’t provoke unfavorable reactions from their professional network or bring their own credibility into question.
You’ll need a mix of information resources for a full range of topical content:
- Internal Resources – Review case studies or trends from existing clients, conduct customer or supplier surveys, consult your sales and account teams, leadership team, subject-matter experts and any other internal stakeholders.
- External Resources – Consider media publications, market analysts, search engine research, industry bodies or governmental reporting, academic studies and third-party databases.
Here’s a helpful guide on how to research blog articles from a content marketers perspective.
If your team doesn’t have the necessary time to dedicate to thought leadership and expert content production, consider hiring specialized writing staff or freelancers in your niche. You might also consider AI writing software to help ease some of the burden if you don’t have budget for an extra person. Of course, AI writing tools are definitely a time-saving aid rather than a substitute for skilled marketers.
- Read Half Past Nine’s review of the top AI writing software available!
More detailed guidance on creating content by format is available in Chapter 3 of this B2B Content Marketing series.
7. Use Calls To Action for the Journey Stage
Good use of calls to action (CTAs) will boost engagement metrics for your content, move buyers along the sales funnel and increase your conversion rate. CTAs are relevant for any type of content, from social and email to your website or downloadable content assets. They make it very clear exactly where a user needs to click next to progress their journey or learn more.
Set up your main call to action as a conversion goal for the page so that Google Analytics will report on it for you. You can have more than one goal set up per webpage. Goals could include anything from time spent on page, newsletter signups, video views, video views to completion, downloads, internal link clicks to other featured content, or submitting a contact form.
- Use Buttons – For the primary one or two CTAs, use buttons to ensure they stand out. CTAs that appear as buttons perform far better than images. Use prominent, colorful buttons that catch the eye and are clickable. SAP found that orange CTAs boosted their conversion rate by 32.5%. Use buttons on a plain background so they stand out, not overlaying them on busy images, or surrounding them with other distracting visuals. CTAs that are surrounded by more negative space and less clutter can increase a company’s conversion rate by 232%.
- Optimize Text – Stick to less than 10 words. Use incentivizing value-based and contextual text, like ‘Get my free software trends report’. Generic messages like ‘Submit’ lack any personal meaning or context and won’t perform as well. ContentVerve saw a 90% increase in click-through rate by using first-person phrasing: “Start my free 30 day trial” vs. “Start your free 30 day trial.” The more engaging you can make the text, the better.
- Personalize for the Journey Stage – Personalized CTAs, or ‘Smart CTAs’ convert 202% better than default versions. Smart CTAs are set up for segmented users in numerous ways, adapting to information held about the visitor. They use data like location, browser language, whether they’re a customer, a known lead or unknown prospect, and more. At Hubspot, for “a visitor who has not interacted with HubSpot and is interested in solutions to lead generation, we will show a CTA to HubSpot Academy where they can learn about inbound marketing. For existing leads, we’ll show them a separate CTA offering a free tool – in this case, free HubSpot Forms.”
- Placement – Where you place CTAs on your content has been shown to impact their click and conversion rates.
CTAs on landing pages for gated content and feature boxes get the most conversions:
- Welcome gates: 10 – 25%
- Feature box: 3 – 9%
- Pop-ups: 1 – 8%
- Sliders and bars: 1 – 5%
- Sidebar: 0.5 – 1.5%
- Generic, end-of-post: 0.5 – 1.5%
- Navigation bar: varies
Here are the most effective CTA tactics by popular content formats:
- Blogs – Hubspot found that CTAs worked best when positioned within the top third of the post, accompanied by a separate CTA at the bottom. This specific pairing dramatically increased conversions from their blog content. Other Hubspot research found that CTAs used as anchor text in blogs improve conversion rates by up to 121% more than banner or display versions.
- Long-from landing pages – Multiple CTA placement can generate up to 220% more leads than landing pages with a CTA only above the fold. (That means before a user needs to scroll down to keep reading.)
- Social media – The term “Share” in a CTA is the most effective. Posts that include the word “Share” get nearly 2x as many social actions than those that do not. Just don’t use it too often without looking for genuine engagement with your audience, as Facebook can penalize repeated use of terms like ‘share’ and ‘click’ as SPAM.
- Video – A CTA within the video gets 380% more clicks than a normal sidebar CTAs.
- Email – Including just one CTA increased clicks by 371%, and sales by up to 1,617%. Social Times added social media sharing buttons to emails and saw a 158% increase in clickthrough rate (CTR).
- Organic search – Landing page CTAs that contained the searched keywords increased conversion rates by as much as 87%.
ToFU CTA Examples
- Get My Free Guide
- Reserve My Spot!
- Sign Me Up!
- Tell Me More
MoFU to BoFu CTA Examples
- Get My Checklist
- Book My Demo
- Start A Free Trial
- Show Me Plans + Pricing
- Get My Free Consultation!
Check out some A/B testing tools you can use to optimize your CTA usage, among other page elements. You can get more inspiration for CTA variations by checking out this insightful article featuring CTA split testing case studies.
And a final note on CTAs; do always double check that you have linked the buttons or text to the right place!
8. Use KPIs
KPI metrics are required to know whether you are meeting your audience’s needs and achieving your objectives. They will allow you to see clearly where you’re creating most impact. Without the data, you’re flying blind.
For context, 94% of the most successful B2B content marketers measure their content performance, compared with 60% of the least successful.
It may not be your favorite topic given how much work goes into setting up and utilizing analytics tools to their full capability, on top of everything else that requires attention. Start with the basics as a minimum, which is easily achievable, and work up.
If you’re lucky enough in terms of budget, a marketing analytics specialist is invaluable. Well designed KPI dashboards can transform marketing data from meaningless overwhelm into a decision-makers dream.
You’ll have different metrics for either brand awareness and lead generation campaigns. Both approaches are a necessary part of a holistic content strategy capable of sustained growth. If you’re unsure how best to track brand awareness as a metric, we’ve got you covered with our quick and easy guide:
Half Past Nine also has digestible guidance on how to build a strong data foundation:
- Marketing Data Analytics: How To Build Your Source Of Truth
- 8 Marketing Data Issues That Might Be Holding You Back (And How To Fix Them)
As your content library grows, you’ll be able to build incremental growth targets based on what works best through experimentation. Do review your KPIs at regular set intervals to help you make responsive decisions according to your audience preferences and behavior.
Here are important KPIs to track according to channel:
- New + Returning Visitors – Keep tabs on how quickly new vs. returning visitor numbers are growing overall. Returning visitors is a good sign that brand awareness is growing and users are engaged with your content. Returning visitors are likely to have higher intent than first time visitors.
- Bounce Rate – This will tell you if you need to improve the relevancy or quality of your content, improve internal linking and content flow or call to action usage. It could also reflect technical elements of your site such as load speed. Also, make sure any social or email content that brought people to the page accurately reflected the contents of the page. Minimize your bounce rate to help boost your rankings on search.
- Views for Key Pages – Which pages are top performers getting most views, and which get the least views?
- Organic Traffic – What content marketing is all about! High volumes of organic traffic mean you’re doing something right when it comes to SEO. You can compare traffic from paid sources as a helpful benchmark for SEO ROI. On which pages does most organic traffic land?
- Exit Pages – On which pages do most visitors finish a session? Are they not engaging with the page, or are they leaving after completing a page goal? What does it tell you about the performance of the page?
- Time on Page – Combine this with a scroll depth tool and a click heat map if you can. Time on page is an important engagement metric that the Google algorithm uses to help assess content quality.
- Keywords – Use Google Search Console, or you can also use your SEO tool if you have one. Report on your organic keywords, page 1 keywords and target keywords. If your target keywords aren’t showing up for the traffic that comes in, there’s obviously still work to do. Be patient and consistent, as it does take some time.
- SEO Share of Voice – You’ll need an SEO tool to compare your search visibility on important keywords against all searches for those keywords. Use Google Search Console against Google Trends research if you don’t have a paid tool. Compile your list of the main keywords relevant to your industry, and keywords that get most clicks for the topic. Use this data to see gaps in your visibility, and where you could increase your SEO efforts. See how tools like SEMrush can help you.
- Traffic Sources on Key Pages – With UTM codes, you can see which exact pieces of organic content bring people to your website, helping you determine what generates most traffic and leads.
- Unique and Returning Visits on Key Pages – Which pages brought people back to your website? Differentiate between ToFU, MoFU and BoFU pages for funnel flow efficiency tracking. It’s a good sign if pages designed for further along the journey get returning traffic. Look at internal links clicked to show you if people navigate to pages further down the funnel. You can also split out page engagement by traffic source, assessing what channels bring in the most high-intent leads.
- Downloads – Insert a Google Analytics code for this. Note that this can’t tell you how many people view a document after download.
- Backlinks – Or inbound links from other websites. Google Search Console will give you this information, and setting it up for your website is recommended. Backlinks are a great indicator of your authority within your industry, and it’s another key metric that Google’s algorithm uses to rank your site. Backlinks (and their quality) indicate whether brand awareness and authority is currently low, high, or somewhere in between. With an SEO tool, you can check out your competitors backlink data for an industry benchmark.
- Goal Completion on Key Pages – Define goals for each piece of content. Goals are content engagement actions completed, and could include clicking an internal link, submitting a contact form, creating an account, signing up to the newsletter, starting a trial, downloading a white paper, or making an online purchase. Google Analytics will report on your page goals for you once they’ve been set up. Low goal completion rates obviously indicate that your content isn’t having the desired effect.
- Video Average Watch Time – This tells you how long people watched your video on average, showing the average second mark at which viewers stopped watching. Needless to say, the longer the Average Watch Time is, the more engaging and well-targeted your video content is. This can also provide helpful information for understanding what part of a video ad needs to be improved to better engage prospects, i.e. the point at where they stop watching could mean that the content isn’t engaging enough.
- Traffic Drop Off – Which pages lose more users than average according to the exit rate? Did people complete a goal on the page before exit?
- New Leads Generated – A self explanatory one that demonstrates overall success. Comparing total leads generated to marketing qualified leads (MQLs) generated will help assess the quality of traffic being brought in. (More on qualifying leads in Chapter 4.)
Organic Social KPIs
- Engagement Metrics – A straightforward one, which counts likes, comments, shares and click-through rate per post. Social algorithms prioritize the ranking of posts and accounts that get consistent audience engagement. A social media management tool can pull this metric data together for you from across platforms.
- Average Engagement Rate – Total engagements per post. This will act as your own internal benchmark, so you can see which posts are below or above the average. Are there commonalities among your better performing posts? Is it a content format or structure, timing, topic, article length, use of imagery, tone of voice…?
- Impressions – Number of times a post is viewed.
- Reach – Reach is the number of unique people who have seen your content. Encouraging followers to share your content will help expand your reach. Bear in mind that impressions (views) will double count people, and the number of times a person has seen a post is the frequency. Impressions don’t necessarily equate to awareness considering people’s fleeting attention while scrolling on social apps! But again, it’s a good indicator.
- Follower Growth Rate – A great indicator of growing social reach and brand awareness.
- Social Traffic Conversion Rate – What kind of posts tend to drive most click-throughs and goal conversions on your website? Use UTM codes to track this precisely.
- Open Rate – Subject line A/B testing and sending time are the two key factors that impact this.
- Subscriber Growth – Subscriber growth is a good indicator of growing brand awareness. It will reflect the quality and relevancy of your ToFU content, i.e., how interesting and authoritative it is in the eyes of your audience. It could also be impacted by the visibility and ease of your newsletter sign up form.
- Unsubscribes – A high rate means your sending frequency, content relevancy or quality has gone off track.
- Actions – After opens, click-through rate is naturally the most important one as you’re aiming to push people onto your website.
- Email Traffic Conversion Rate – Which email formats and topics drive most clicks and goal completions on your webpages?
9. Audit Content + Repurpose
As B2B marketers, we can’t always afford to create unique content every single time. There isn’t always a genuine need to either.
It’s good practice to get maximum value from your content by producing it in multiple formats. Repurpose your long form content into a variety of formats and snippets adapted to the native styles of selected publishing channels.
Older content can still provide value, but may need a quick update or restructure to give it new life. In terms of distribution, stick to the best performing formats for the channel and specific platform.
Perform a Content Audit
Look at what content you already have, and how it has performed. Assess the engagement metrics and conversion rates in particular. You’ll be able to determine what’s working well to do more of, and what approaches to discontinue.
Content that already converts well can be duplicated to match the personalized needs of distinct customer personas at the relevant stages of their journey.
For your website content, invest in a tool such as HotJar to help you see exactly how users interact with pages, from heat maps to scroll depth, session replays and click hotspots. It will make it easier for you to determine what is working well and what isn’t! Use this type of information to consider how best to structure new content going forward.
Aim to cost-effectively repurpose and leverage key content pieces across customer silos. Decide where to:
- Repurpose old content with updated information, or in a different format.
- Duplicate a piece of existing content in the same format, but with more personalized messaging for unique audience personas and campaigns.
- Create new content.
- Repurpose new content into multiple formats for cross-channel promotion, which could be part of a campaign to promote a new piece of thought leadership content.
Content formats are coming up in the next chapter, where we’ll go into detail.
10. Use a Content Approval + Archive Process
Don’t let sloppy or factually incorrect content slip through the net! A poor (or completely lacking) approval process puts your brand’s reputation at stake and can repel valuable leads.
Content Approval Process
1. Marketing Proof-read – Allocate a senior team member, or whoever has the strongest proof-reading skills. Sense-check any research undertaken by the writer, ensuring the suitability and authority of references, and that links are provided to the source where possible. Has the brand style and tone of voice been adequately adhered to?
2. Subject-matter Expert – Ask someone with the appropriate technical expertise to check that they agree with the information, or go back to the technical person who provided the article outline. Do brief them to keep technical information appropriate for the buyer persona level. Your sales team might appreciate reviewing it too, also keeping them up to date with the latest thought leadership and ensuring everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
3. Leadership Team – This will depend on your executive team’s availability and desire to review content before it goes out. However, always make sure the person who’s named as author has an opportunity to review and respond before publishing.
Archive Your Content
This is a very worthwhile practice if you have the resource, and it will definitely save you time later! Make it easy to see all the content you have in one central location, from written content to brand assets and templates.
Archive all content in whatever repository is available given your IT or budget resources. It could be an excel spreadsheet at its simplest. Ensure that it’s easy to navigate and search by topic, published date, channel, etc. This makes your life easier for deciding if you have anything suitable to update or re-purpose when the need arises.
Link to the content so that you can see it in its current form, just in case it’s been updated since publishing. Consider tagging the persona and journey stage, and a traffic light grading system as a basic comparison for the performance of the content within a week or month of when it was published.
11. Optimize Your CRM Utilization
CRM data has always been important, however even more so now as the quality of third-party audience data rapidly declines. Marketers are having to rely more heavily on organic marketing, or use first-party data to maintain the targeting accuracy of advertising on social platforms.
For more information on the decline of third-party data, check out Half Past Nine’s articles on:
- App Tracking Transparency: Everything Advertisers Need To Know About Apple’s New Update
- IOS 15 Update: Email Marketing Is Next Up On Apple’s Privacy Conquest
- Switching To First-Party Data: It’s Time To Stop ‘Renting’ And Start Owning Customer Data
Lead Segmentation + Categorization
Here’s what each categorization means:
- Prospects – Prospects are people who fit within your target audience but as of yet have not shown an interest in your company.
- Leads (unqualified) – Leads may be known or unknown, whether through professional and personal networks or as website visitors. They have engaged with online or offline touchpoints showing an interest in your business. However, there is not enough data currently available to qualify or disqualify them. More engagement is required.
- Disqualified Leads – These leads are identified as not meeting the screening criteria to become potential customers. (However, some could still qualify in future.)
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) – MQLs are identified as having potential to become customers based on screening criteria. They are to be nurtured with marketing communications such as email campaigns or retargeting ads.
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) – SQLs match criteria for a sales process to be initiated and direct contact made.
- Opportunity – The lead is in an active buying process and has a high prospect of closing.
Any new contacts that go into your database throughout the content marketing flow should be allocated a lead category, adding them to marketing or sales lists accordingly. This will help you report on the quality of new leads being generated, better prioritize the time of your sales team and refine targeting efforts.
This categorization process is more effective for warming up leads rather than jumping in too early; most people want to make contact if and when they are ready. Not all audience members can enter into a purchasing process at any given time, and it’s off-putting for your marketing + sales teams to behave otherwise.
If you receive marketing communications opt-in from a prospect, automate the process of allocating them into segmented marketing lists where possible. Use checked interests, or alternatively research them online and do it manually. This allows you to personalize communications through email (direct marketing).
With a marketing automation platform, you can take the weight off your team. Automated lead scoring or categorization will help you more accurately estimate what stage in the buying journey a lead might be at any given time, helping you decide how best to nurture them. Your sales team can also see when it’s time to make contact, with automated notifications to better prioritize their time and efforts. The top two automation platforms are widely considered to be Hubspot and Salesforce Pardot.
How To Qualify Leads
Qualified leads are those more likely to convert based on behavior; they are the top priority for your sales team to follow up with. You’ll need defined criteria for creating Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).
Hubspot has some great guidance for qualifying leads, but factors to assess include:
- Whether the lead’s company is the right size and fit for your offering.
- Content they have engaged with (content funnel stage, time on page, clicks, opens, watch time, downloads).
- How they respond to qualifying questions via an online survey.
Form fills for gated content should provide some basic information that will help you understand which leads are most likely to convert. As will a CRM that can pull in data from your website and email platform.
Helpful data points include company name, job title and location. You could also incorporate negative criteria that indicates when leads are not likely to convert and can be disqualified. When you have these types of data points, you’ll have the information you need for more accurately assessing and qualifying new leads. Consider producing a monthly report on new leads to track progress and demonstrate your success.
Does your CRM database setup and supporting processes capture the necessary data to qualify leads and make it reportable?
Closed-loop reporting refers to identifying the source and journey of a converted lead, ideally tracking each point on their journey from the first touchpoint to the closed deal. This lets you see your customers’ journeys, allowing you to assess which touchpoints are most effective for bringing in, nurturing and converting high quality leads.
Your CRM database is the centralized storage for collating all this data, whether it’s inserted automatically by integrated systems or manually input by marketing and sales teams. Marketing automation platforms, such as Hubspot, are essential for a complete picture. Plus you’ll need to activate tracking pixels for your distribution platforms such as Facebook, or use UTM codes for tracking organic content performance.
- To learn more about setting up data capture processes, remember to check out: Marketing Data Analytics: How To Build Your Source Of Truth.
Depending on your business model, your sales team may have more or less responsibility to document touchpoints from any stage in the customer journey and close the reporting loop.
Utilize 2-way API integrations between your CRM database and your owned channels, primarily your email platform and website. Most modern CRM databases should provide this, along with technical support if you need it. When configured, this will help automate customer data capture into your centralized database, giving you a clearer view of customer behavior and journeys so prospects can be accurately scored.
Marketing automation platforms are a valuable tool to support lead scoring and nurturing. It’s interesting that only 39% of marketers said they use marketing automation in their tech stack in 2021, which could possibly be down to resource constraints.
Marketing automation platforms are CRM databases that use API integrations, gathering multiple data points from integrated sources such as your website and email platform, delivering much deeper insight and personalization for known prospects. Prospects can be automatically scored and nurtured by an automation platform. Set up email flows for new leads and better cater to individual interests, with email chains triggered and delivered on an individual basis. You’ll be able to more efficiently and accurately manage when a lead can be moved from an MQL to an SQL.
If you’re considering marketing automation and pre-built email flows, do use your audience personas, content engagement data and input from your sales team to understand what works best per use case.
The foundation of any effective B2B content marketing strategy is topical authority built on your owned channels. Content is absolutely essential to nurture, qualify and convert leads at scale. Your content should be easy to find organically using strategically chosen keywords and hashtags.
Whether leads find your website through social or search, any starting point needs to provide a clear customer journey using insightfully designed content touch points in a nurturing funnel.
From ‘How to’ content, to CTAs leading into deeper detail about your offering, CTAs should be compellingly crafted to:
- Keep your audience engaged.
- Justify the sharing of personal data.
- Nurture users through individual journeys using content touch points that meet their informational needs.
And this concludes Chapter 2 of Half Past Nine’s four-part B2B content marketing series.
Ready to discover more of the series now? See the other chapters below, or bookmark them for later!