Every day, thousands of well-meaning content marketers publish a lot of content on the Internet. And it’s not hard to see why — year-over-year growth in unique site traffic is a huge 7.8x higher for content marketing leaders, compared to followers.
Unfortunately, being a leader in the space is incredibly challenging. It’s harder than ever to capture your intended audience’s attention and as bounce rates continue to rise, CTRs remain stagnant, and tracking conversions from content is notoriously difficult, it’s understandable that many marketers are left wondering why their content efforts aren’t paying off.
In this guide to content marketing strategy, we’ll delve into how to build a content marketing strategy that generates leads, the importance of content experience, guiding principles for developing strong content, and how to optimize content towards your target generation.
Content marketing strategy framework
When you hear marketers referring to TOFU, MOFU and BOFU, they’re not throwing insults or talking about food. In fact, they’re talking about the top, middle and bottom of the funnel content. A good content marketing strategy will serve every stage of the customer’s journey, persuading them to move through the sales funnel and make a purchase.
No two customer journeys are the same, and it’s rare that a customer will buy at first glance. Just think how often an anonymous visitor comes to your website and within seconds buys a product. If only it were that simple.
Even when leads are qualified, most are still not convinced that they need to make an immediate purchase. Almost 80% of new leads do not result in a sale, and usually around 10 lead-nurturing steps are needed for a lead to convert to a paying customer.
The good news is, content can help these leads convert. Aberdeen conducted a study that found companies that put their primary focus on content marketing increased their website conversion rates by more than 5x.
What’s holding businesses back from increasing conversions in this way is a lack of understanding regarding what content to create for each stage of the marketing funnel. 65% of B2B marketers admit that they’re unsure of what content is best used at each stage of the customer journey.
To help align your content marketing team with the customer journey, we’ve broken down top, middle and bottom of the funnel content with strategies that aim to nurture and convert.
What is top of the funnel content?
Top of the funnel content targets an audience who are at the awareness stage of their journey (those who have yet to engage with your brand). It’s at this stage that you create and distribute educational content that is useful for customers. This type of content focuses less on a company’s products and services and more on the needs and wants of the customer.
Before a customer visits your website, they’re searching your brand online, checking out your vibe on Instagram, and researching specific products. When your customer is at this stage, you need to position your brand as an educator and create content with a focus on quality and consistency of output.
Blog articles and social content are some of the most common forms of top-of-the-funnel content. Each article must answer a specific customer question, pain point or need, all with a call-to-action that encourages a reader to subscribe, trial or buy. In an SEMRush survey conducted in 2020, it was revealed that 95% of marketers create TOFU content, with the most popular content type being a How-To Guide.
For example, this very blog you’re reading is part of a top-of-the-funnel content strategy. The blog contains a host of written content with accompanying images and videos to enhance a customer’s reading experience. The idea of this content is to attract a wide audience of potential leads, which filter through to conversion opportunities.
What is middle of the funnel content?
The stage of the funnel is where a customer has identified a problem and is looking for a solution. A customer might already be aware of your brand and may have even interacted with your website. Top-performing MOFU content includes success stories, product overviews, and case studies, with email marketing, social media marketing, and organic search being the most efficient channels (SEMRush Survey, 2020).
Middle of the funnel content strategies
At this stage, leads are still not qualified, but they do have some awareness of your brand and products, and are likely to be searching for more proof. Create content that continues to educate your leads but also positions your company as providing an immediate solution to their challenges.
Evaluate your top-of-the-funnel blog articles and find a way to produce high-value content that focuses on answering one specific question as an offshoot. When answering a question, ensure that it ties directly into your product or service.
This strategy transforms your regular blog articles into content that provides leads with a direct solution to their problem and pushes them down the sales cycle and hopefully, into the next stage: bottom of the funnel.
What is bottom of the funnel content?
This is content that persuades prospects to make a purchase or take a specific action. At this stage of the funnel, a customer becomes a buyer. At the bottom of the funnel, content is created that accelerates deals, instills brand confidence and positions your brand above competitors. The delivery of bottom-of-the-funnel content is actionable, assertive and is typically given to a sales team to directly market products or services.
Bottom of the funnel content strategies
Now, your leads are qualified, and they’re ready to make a purchase. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re going to buy your product or service. They still may very well choose a product from your competitor. So how do you create content that will instill confidence and persuade them to purchase from you? The answer is to create an effective bottom-of-the-funnel content strategy and combine it with your sales strategy.
Comparison pages are a good example of BOFU content. You know who our competitors are and you know what makes your product — whether it’s software or a physical product — better. So, you can create a series of comparison pages that show your almost-there leads why you’re better than the other option they’re exploring.
Other popular BOFU content includes customer reviews or other user-generated content that helps convert prospective customers. Email, organic search, and paid advertising are the most efficient channels at this stage of the journey (SEMRush Survey, 2020).
Your bottom-of-the-funnel content strategy is all about giving your customers the final nudge towards a sale. It’s essential to add more action items to your content, language and delivery and link your marketing strategy directly with your sales tactics. You may also want to add more direct calls to action through banners or shoppable modules.
Moving leads through the funnel
To ensure that leads get from TOFU to BOFU, you’ll need to map out a customer journey that includes trigger points that set off your automated, personalized marketing campaigns.
For example, let’s say you’re an ecomm brand selling health supplements. A potential customer visits your blog and reads a 3,000-word article on the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need to get a good night’s rest.
If they’ve invested that amount of time, we know sleep is important to them. If your company has website tracking in place, you can retarget this customer on Facebook or Google with additional content around sleep. For example, it might be a free sleep meditation that can be downloaded through a lead generation form. The important thing here is to give the potential customer something that’s really valuable. Then they’ll be more likely to hand over their email address and will have a positive first experience with your brand.
If you’re an Ortto user, once you’ve captured that lead in Facebook, it will go directly into your CDP and could be automatically segmented into a ‘Sleep interest’ customer journey you’ve set up. From here, that customer could be sent a series of emails sharing MOFU sleep content. Continued engagement gets them further down the funnel where BOFU content like an email sharing rave reviews from real customers lands in their inbox. Finally, they’ll convert.
There are three important things to consider in this journey:
A unified customer journey
For this strategy to work properly, you will need a single view of your customer’s journey. That requires bringing all of your customer, transactional, behavioral and action-based data together in one customer data platform, like Ortto. With this view, you can identify the actions that trigger messages and use analytics to tweak your journey as you generate insights.
For automated marketing to feel personalized, it’s crucial to set up audience segments that go beyond demographics. You need to understand this customer on a deeper level so that you can send them the right kind of content. Since Ortto combines all your data sources, creating powerful segments that take multiple factors into account is not only possible but easy to do.
Timing, timing, timing
Timing truly is everything. If this individual is searching for sleep solutions, we can go ahead and guess they’ve taken a look at your competitors' content as well as yours. By using a platform like Ortto with your lead capture campaigns, you’ll ensure that this new lead hits your CDP instantly, and is quickly entered into a customer journey. By taking the manual work (exporting a CSV in Facebook, uploading it to your CDP and manually segmenting then targeting), you can ensure that yours is the email that lands in their inbox first.
Once this journey is established, you’ll quickly start to generate insights that will help you create an even more powerful content engine.
The importance of content experience
Now you know how to create a content strategy that gets your audience through the funnel. But what about the content itself? Before we get there, it’s important to consider the content experience.
Essentially, content experience extends beyond the actual content and into the realm of user experience and personalization. A positive content experience can make your readers’ lives easier and send them on a path to making a buying decision. A negative content experience, however, can cause your potential buyers to look elsewhere.
Content experience can be broken down to 3 different components:
Environment: where your content lives
In the world of content marketing, looks matter a lot. Environment refers to how your content is presented to the world; your customers will stop engaging with your website if the layout is not visually appealing.
Ortto tip: Don’t just copy and paste large chunks of text onto your page. Consider adding an interactive contents section, images, graphics, dot points, and headings that all complement each other and make it easier for your visitor to read your content.
Structure: how your content is structured
The second component focuses on how your content is organized. A positive content experience means that a user with a query or two can find what they need when they visit your site. The organization, navigation, and curation of your content will affect the user’s ability to discover useful and relevant content. You need to ask yourself the following questions:
Is the content organized in a way that’s intuitive for your users?
Has your content been grouped by topic, role, or industry?
Is your content in more than one place?
If you don’t spend time thinking about structure, the likely outcome is a poor user experience and this leads to a negative content experience.
Ortto tip: Organizing and curating your content logically within your resource center will ensure greater discoverability of your content, resulting in a better experience for your customer.
Engagement: how to increase engagement and conversions
Your content experience can go two ways: compel your customer to act positively (for example, buying your product) or lead them astray.
So how do you compel action? Focus on content that solves a problem, answers a question, or provides real value to the reader. Little extras like downloadables, infographics, or even quizzes can also help keep the reader engaged.
In email, SMS, or paid social content, personalization can go a long way to increasing engagement and conversions. In fact, personalized content facilitates repeated purchases in almost 44% of consumers and personalized CTAs convert 202% better than non-personalized ones.
Ortto Tip: First and foremost, focus on writing remarkable and engaging content that serves a purpose. Then ensure you are speaking to your product or brand in a way that positions it as the solution to the reader’s problem. Ask yourself whether this is TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU content, and how your CTA can lead your reader to the next part of the funnel.
Remember, content is not just limited to your blog or resources page. Anywhere your content can be encountered, it can be experienced. A confirmation email that your customer receives after subscribing to your blog, a video they watch on your website, or your eBook they read on their device while commuting to work are all encounters with your brand. And all these experiences build the trust required to establish a meaningful relationship with your customers.
6 Tips for delivering a remarkable content experience
So now you know the components of a great content experience and it’s time to deliver on all three. Follow these content creation principles to give your readers a great content experience every time:
1. Throw out the word limit rule book
For a long time, brands were focused on short, sharp blog content that was designed to overcome short attention spans. More recently, however, we’ve learned online readers are willing to invest time in long-form content if the content calls for it.
For example, this blog you’re reading right now. Content marketing is not something that can be explained in 600 words — anyone with interest in the topic would know this to be true. Rather than publishing a low-quality piece that skates over the topic, we’ve chosen to publish an in-depth, long-form article that covers various parts of content marketing strategy.
To give you, our reader, a better content experience, we have broken this long-form piece up into chapters that you can easily navigate through. This means you get the best of both worlds — an in-depth article to peruse if you have the time, and quick links to the sections you’re most interested in reading.
Put simply, content creation is no longer about creating short blogs for as many keywords as humanly possible. Instead, content marketers should be focused on creating high-quality, in-depth content on the keywords that really matter to their business. Quality over quantity!
2. Prioritize website accessibility
An inaccessible website makes the other parts of your content marketing strategy useless. What’s the point of writing all this incredible content if your website takes too long to load and impatient readers turn away before they even have a chance to read the opening line of your masterpiece?
Considering website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time (between seconds 0-5), delivering a remarkable content experience to convert customers absolutely requires an investment of time on the accessibility of your content pages.
3. Put your reader first
Before you even think about writing the opening sentence, you must ask yourself the following questions:
Who is my reader?
Does the information provide value to this reader?
Does this piece of content answer the keyword search it is optimized for?
Would I want to read this?
Can I add any infographics, videos, images, subheads, bullets, lists, or downloadables to enhance the experience?
Does this blog include up-to-date information and statistics?
Readers are time-poor and their attention spans are limited. Respect their time by making sure your content is worthy of their investment. The last thing you want them to say is: “That was six minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.”
This principle should also be applied to the way you approach SEO. Before jumping aboard the numbers game; targeting specific long-tail keywords in headlines and focusing on link building once the post is live, instead start with your reader and the problems they may be facing. If you are able to formulate articles to solve your reader's problems, and then do some keyword research to figure out how to optimize your article, you’ll be better placed against your competition.
Think of it like this — instead of SEO being the primary driver behind your content strategy, solving your reader’s problems will be the primary motivation behind everything you write.
4. The eighth grade principle
Let’s get one thing straight, it’s always best to assume your reader is intelligent. No one likes to be patronized. But that does not mean pulling out all of your highest-scoring Scrabble words at once.
Readers — and search engines — like to understand the articles they read as quickly as possible and that means writing at roughly an 8th-grade level. In fact, most search specialists recommend a 6th-8th grade reading level which equates to basic phrasing plus technical language as required. The ‘as required’ there is important — if technical language is the fastest and simplest way to get your point across, use it. In some cases, like algorithms or very specific industry terms, it may be worthwhile to offer an explanation in brackets or link to a relevant explainer article.
5. Repurpose with pride
In the age of declining attention spans, people need to see your content several times before they start to pay attention. No, we’re not saying you should be repeating the same keyword over and over throughout the page, nor should you be re-using entire blog posts (this is a big no-no for search). We’re talking about creating and distributing your content in the following ways:
Repurpose key pieces of content into different formats e.g. infographics, videos, slides, eBooks, downloadable PDFs etc.
Distribute key pieces of content across multiple channels e.g. email, social media, presentation sites, etc.
Keep evergreen content fresh. Evergreen content that ranks well in search can attract a lot of traffic, and should therefore be regularly reviewed, optimized, and updated.
6. Follow the stats
And we don’t just mean the vanity metrics. Ensure you are keeping on top of how your content is performing beyond pageviews.
Look at metrics like:
Users vs. New Users
Pages per session
Engagement (social) - especially shares and saves
What you may find is some articles don’t get quite the same volume of traffic, but they do have a high conversion rate. This may mean you’ve struck upon a specific long-tail search term that attracts the right reader, and you’ve created a compelling piece of content to show your reader how your product or platform solves a problem for them. Look into it a little, and experiment with a few other pieces that use the same winning principles.
Generational content marketing strategy
Customizing your marketing efforts to specific groups of people can help you save money, increase sales, and drive conversions. The hardest part is determining how to segment those customers and market to them based on their collective values, needs, or fears. An effective way to segment your customers is to categorize them according to the generational cohort they are part of. Generational targeting makes sense because generations often share common characteristics and beliefs.
Who are the digital generations?
Grouping consumers by generation can help you segment your message with greater precision, increased interaction, and less ad spend per quality lead. Here, we break down the US population according to data released June 2021:
The Silent Generation (1928 - 1945): 6.61%
Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964): 21.45%
Generation X (1965 to 1980): 19.71%
Millennials (1981 to 1996): 21.93%
Generation Z (1997 to 2012): 20.35%
How digitally savvy are your customers?
Knowing your audience is just one component of the equation. You can then further segment your audience by looking at valuable metrics such as location, smartphone usage, social media platform use, and more.
A Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Sprout Social surveyed over 1,000 US consumers to understand how each generation uses social media today, and how they plan to use it in the future. The results give us insights into how digitally savvy each audience is, and how content can be catered to their needs.
Baby Boomers: 40% say social media is an essential part of their lives, with Facebook being their preferred platforms
Generation X: 74% say social media is an essential part of their lives, with YouTube and Facebook being their preferred platforms
Millennials: 72% say social media is an essential part of their lives, with the most common reason for usage being to communicate with family, friends and acquaintances
Generation Z: 66% say social media is an essential part of their lives, with the most common reason they use it being to kill time
The infographic below shows social media use by age bracket for adults 18+. This will give you an indication of where your audience could be spending their time.
Incorrect messages or platforms can mean wasted budgets, time, and resources. And knowing all that information is the first step to winning at generational marketing, whether you’re selling face masks to a Generation Z customer on Instagram or cruise packages to Baby Boomers on Facebook.
What kind of content does each generation prefer?
The next step to reaching your audience is to find out where they’re at in their customer journey and work out what content speaks to them most powerfully. A study by direct response agency Koeppel Direct found the following:
Baby Boomers preferred text-light content on Facebook (approximately 300 words)
Generation X consumers were happy to watch long videos, with 30 seconds being the sweet spot for mobile video ads
Millennials really enjoyed online shopping
Generation Z consumers preferred video content over text and were profoundly influenced by social media
These are all interesting (and useful) findings. Don’t take them all for gospel though; we suggest using Ortto to test these findings with your segments.
For example, with your Baby Boomer audience, you can run a series of A/B split tests on your Facebook ads to see whether text-light or video content performs best. Use Ortto to create your ads test group, then select the percentage of contacts to display each ad to. By default, this will appear as 50/50. From there, you can add each audience segment to Facebook and serve your content.
Today’s ultra-fractured audiences can be hard to reach. However, this shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent. Using powerful segmentation in a tool like Ortto will help you slice and dice your audience using different data sets. Then, you can start to find out what kind of content resonates with each generation on your social platforms, email and more. You may even find that age is nothin’ but a number, and other metrics like action-based data are more important when it comes to delivering the most relevant content.
The final word
Content marketing is an essential part of marketing for any online business. Without sales staff on the shop floor or regular face-to-face meetings with clients, customers are looking for a library of material they can refer to when figuring out who your brand is, what you do, and why they should spend with you instead of your competitor.
Do the up-front work of developing a strong content marketing strategy, and every piece you publish will be that much more powerful.