Today I’m going to share a little hack I use to ensure the content I’m writing matches what people want to know when they’re searching for the topic: It’s an outline. Yes my very best blogging tip for you is something you learned about in, oh say, third grade.
I know, I know, we all hate the idea of creating outlines as much as we hate using checklists, but those bad boys sure do save time down the line. Here’s how I make my content outlines.
Discover the best content marketing tips:
1. The first thing I do is autocomplete research.
Just type the topic into Google, and check out the autocompletes that populate.
This list shows you what similar searches people tend to conduct – meaning these are questions they have that you can chose to address. Here, you’re looking for topics that fit together nicely with your theme.
2. Then I look at related questions, about mid-way down the Google results page.
If any are large topics and related, they’ll become a part of the piece. But generally I use these to create a short FAQ section (Learn everything else about [the topic]:) and plug them into the Yoast WordPress plugin for FAQs to help grab the extra real estate on Google with my result. This little accordion effect is what I’m talking about:
3. Then I look at related searches at the bottom of the page.
Here I’m just looking for additional sections of content to cover in the piece to ensure it’s comprehensive.
4. Then I look at all the Page 1 results, as a group.
What I’m looking for here is to really understand the searcher’s intent, or what Google thinks it is. So I categorize each of the results based on its angle. So in this case, since we qualified the keyword with “tips” already, the results are a little more clear than usual perhaps:
- best tips
- ultimate tips
- actionable tips
- essential tips
- actionable tips for traffic
- tips for marketers
- tips for aha moments
- indispensable tips
My takeaway here is that people searching for content marketing tips really do want a list of tips. Principles and strategies do show up too though, so I want to be sure I shouldn’t have instead targeted that keyword (i.e. content marketing principles). So I do a quick check on Keyword Planner to see volume:
For my site, content marketing tips remains the best fit. Because my site is new, I need to go after lower volume and lower competition terms. Unfortunately principles just doesn’t match the information I plan to convey on the page. So I’ll take tips for 100, Alex!
“Principles” and “strategies” can be nice supporting keywords, meaning I’ll mention them once or twice, but I now plan to mention tips more frequently, and use it in all the places a keyword should be.
OK, back to all the Page 1 results. While doing this categorization, I also noted that the maximum number of tips featured is 34 and the minimum is 5, while the snippet is given to a site with 13.
5. Then, I check out the top 3-5 results, by clicking open each one.
Here I’m really examining for three components:
- what attributes the post has (image heavy? length? experts quote?)
- what angle it takes on the content (who’s it written for? what’s the unique spin?)
- the technical SEO execution (is the keyword in the right places? are there good links? how’s the page UX?)
So here it goes…
- Wordstream: This one was updated recently in Feb of 2020, which means Google likes it because it’s fresh. Their 13 tips are geared towards a marketer with a few years of experience – and they didn’t take any angle such as a focus on startups or small businesses. Above the fold I’m already noticing the keyword isn’t used in their first H2 though (so that’s an opportunity for me to do better!), and there’s an obtrusive pop-up. They have an image or a video embedded for every tip. By viewing the page source (right click, View Source) I can see they also used Schema markup, which helped them grab the snippet. It’s written by an author with a solid bio, which probably adds some credibility EAT weight. Next, I’m going to select all the text on the page and dump it into a Google doc to get the word count: It’s about 3000 words long.
- Hubspot: There’s an obtrusive pop-up, but not nearly as disruptive as the one from Wordstream. The author begins by defining content marketing, and link to their academy page (I would have linked to Wikipedia because I’m still trying to build authority – they’re choosing to pass value to a site page of theirs they care about). Their 7 tips are more surface-level than Wordstream’s (i.e. written for someone with less marketing experience), as they’re mostly general strategy statements like “use analytics.” Something really great they’ve done though is they made graphics out of quotes from experts they solicited. By embedding experts’ ideas, they’ve made it more likely those authorities will chose to share the content. It’s about 1600 words long.
- Single Grain: No pop-up. Thank you sweet baby jesus. It’s a list of 30 tips that are quite elementary. I mean they did promise “actionable” and “checking your grammar” is indeed something you can act-on, but like duh. It gets a little better, as they move onto things like “create a free tool”. One nice technique they’ve used is providing real-life examples. They’re citing high domain authority sites like Neil Patel and QuickSprout. They also have some good quotes and stats. It’s about 5,000 words long.
Alright, honestly, I’m tired. And that’s normal after number 3 😂, so I’m just going to skim 4 and 5.
- Digital Marketing Institute: Number 4 is short, vague, and has no particular bent in terms of audience beyond “marketer”. And it has the world’s most annoying persistent pop-up.
- Backlink.io: Number 5 is also 17 “actionable” tips, and similar to Hubspot begins with a list of jump link text sections (or named anchors), which is another Google trick. Their first tip is strong, and it appears this post is for a mid-level marketer. Also the UX design of this page is probably the friendliest (uncluttered, text colors without too much contrast, good font size, and spacing) after Hubspot. They also include multiple images for nearly every point they make, and real data. They skip around from video, to titles, to brand keywords – basically a very broad but comprehensive list. They ask for engagement at the end of the post.
I checked out all 5 because people’s search results are different, and slightly customized based on their search history. This way I’m getting a broad enough perspective.
OK, finally I’m done with my research. Now comes the real fun.
6. Now I identify how my post could be different.
Up until now we’ve been focused on the science of content marketing. Now it’s time to switch to the art!
If you do the same thing you’ve always done, you’ll get the same thing you’ve always gotten. Basically you can’t copy other posts and expect to outrank them. So we need to do something different!
First, I pull together how I think a post could provide more valuable information than the existing top results:
- No annoying pop-ups
- Fewer heavy image files
- A totally different angle – one tip in depth OR more than 34 tips (so 35)
- Plus an “odd” number in your page title gets clicked on more, so 35 would be nice
- A specific audience – really hone in on advice for a specific type of marketer, such as small business or startups
- Has to be actionable – and no one else has really shown the exact steps to take, so that’s an opportunity
- Gain some authority by linking out to Wikipedia, and linking out to competitive sites for the term, which no one else has really done
- Give more expert and advanced tips, since most are beginner or mid-level
- Include quotes from a different set of marketers
OK now that I’ve brainstormed, it’s time to draw some conclusions and make a decision about which way to head.
7. Pick my targeted wins.
Now I need to develop a hypothesis around why what’s ranking is ranking. And then put a pin on how I want to do my post.
My feel is the Backlink piece is actually the best in terms of content because it’s in-depth and specific. I think Hubspot’s domain authority and strong UX and its beginner friendliness is winning it a higher spot. And I think Wordstream’s domain authority and schema markup is winning it the snippet.
So I need to:
- Use good Schema/UX
- Appeal to both beginners and those who are more advanced
- At least exceed 1,600 words
- Make the tips actionable but call it something else besides actionable or best – after doing a quick search for synonyms, we’ll go with Effective, because that’s the real benefit
Thinking about what I want to write about, and what expertise I bring, I believe exploring a single tip in-depth will provide the most value. So that’s the way I’m going to go. Anyhow, now, I create my outline bringing all my research together.
8. Create the outline.
Based on the way I’ve chosen to cover the topic, I look at autocomplete topics and see if any of them should become sections within my post (using anchor links): content marketing tips for 2020 seems like a natural fit, and I’ll go for “small businesses” especially because right now more small businesses are moving online than ever before due to Covid-19. So I have a chance to drive some timely traffic, to help boost evergreen performance by showing Google people care about this post.
Then, I look at related questions and pull the ones that align best. “How can content marketing be improved?” and “What is good content marketing?” seem like natural fits so I’ll cover those in an FAQ box at the end of my post.
After that I check out related searches, and notice 2020 is hit there again. So timely tips are clearly important. This one is a little tricky though because if you put a year in your post, it’s no longer evergreen and you have to remember to update it the following year. So it’s a trade-off whether you think you need to be that specific to see any traction on the post ever. Newer, lower domain authority sites will want to use it. Bigger sites don’t really need to and can get away with “this year.”
Strategy, examples, and ideas are other clear sections that could tie into the topic. Then I tie it all together in an order that flows naturally.
My outline now looks like this:
19 Effective Content Marketing Tips
1-2 paragraph intro using the keyword, summarizing what’s being covered and hinting at something very interesting
Explore content marketing tips (h2) <– Notice how I made the headline actionable
List of 15 ideas applicable for both beginners and more advanced marketers by being very specific, with step-by-step instructions (this is what they came for and should be the bulk of the post)
Get content marketing tips for small businesses (h2)
4 specialized tips
Set a content marketing strategy (h2)
5 steps for creating a strong strategy
Discover content marketing ideas (h2)
See the best content marketing examples (h2)
5 examples of small businesses doing content marketing well
Learn everything you need to know about content marketing tips: (h2)
How can content marketing be improved? (Yoast FAQ)
Content marketing can be improved by…
What is good content marketing? (Yoast FAQ)
Good content marketing is…
Put these effective content marketing tips to use today! (h2)
Concluding paragraph with a suggestion on what to read next.
Now you might have a few questions about this content marketing tip like:
- Couldn’t each of those sections really be separate standalone posts? Yes. If there’s a topic I have a lot to say about I’ll write it its own post, and then link to it from within its section on this one. However, Google is getting very good at understanding different terms that have similar intent, and it likes to see one clean answer for that intent. So I’ve had more luck with covering it all in one place.
- OK if that’s the format a content marketing tips post should be, why didn’t you follow it? Look, I too, am my own worst enemy. Players are going to play. And writers are going to write…how they want. Sometimes you have to break a proven formula to learn something new.
- Does this really work? It’s tough to do apples to apples, but I can say for blog topics with similar anticipated keyword volume, this approach outranks others I’ve tried. And, I can show you how a blog post where the content was refreshed to follow this format performed after the adjustment (in mid-2019):
And, there you have it! That’s the best content marketing tip I’ve got. Up next, learn more about creating content that ranks well in Google’s latest update.
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Good content marketing is everything – from reviews on your product pages to articles to FAQs – that helps drive traffic and conversions from new leads and customers. For great results try to find content topics that both tie your content closely to your product, for example ways to use the product, and have lots of search interest.
Content marketing can be improved by tracking the traffic and conversion of your content, and categorizing your types of content. That way you’ll learn over time which content performs best, and you can make more similar assets.