In the marketing world we love a catchy title that sounds important. Like content marketer. Say it out loud. Content Marketer. The meaning is clear, but it holds onto that touch of pretension us marketers love.
So why are we talking about content marketers today?
Because if you are an independent author and you published your own book, you’re also a content marketer. How could you not be? You create the book (content) and you sell it (marketing). Yup, you’re a content marketer.
That doesn’t mean your role as a content marketer has to be unpleasant. Some roles you’ll take on can be highly technical and tedious. But creating content is already something you like to do. All you have to do is think about how you create content a little differently.
Who is a Content Marketer?
Content Marketing is a dedicated method of marketing using content for a specific audience, created to offer value to the reader and eventually lead to a sale. So a content marketer is someone who creates content with an eye toward their market. Much like what an author does when considering their reader. That’s a paraphrase of the more eloquent definition from the Content Marketing Institute:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Let’s break this down into the individual pieces you’ll need:
- Strategic Approach – Without a plan, you can only guess about what is working
- Creating – You’ll be creating content with value for your readers
- Distributing – You’ll need to distribute that content
- Defined Audience – Who are your readers? Figure that out and cater to them
- Profitable Customer Action – You have to connect the dots from content you give away to the content you sell
Strategy to Guide Content
Your strategy might be loose. Something like this:
- Four posts per month (about one per week)
- 1 x Relate one post to your products (specific to a book or event)
- 2 x Audience focused content (if your audience favors list-based content, then you should make list-based content)
- 1 x Industry trends (your opinion piece)
- Email subscribers when post goes live or weekly
- Social post linking to the post at least three times in the week following publication
- Facebook – 4 posts
- Twitter – 2 posts
- Instagram – 4 posts
That’s a pretty simple plan. But it’s enough to get you started. You’ve got some guidelines for the content you’ll create and how you’ll distribute that content.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll refer all of you to HubSpot’s guide to developing a content strategy. If you’re ready to use a much more intense and involved content strategy, this guide is the best place to start.
But for many authors, the strategy need not be a multi-page, spreadsheet enhanced document. You don’t have a boss to hand the strategy off to right? Unless you’re a full-time author, you can start with a simplified content marketer plan that focuses on a month-to-month design.
So now it’s time to create!
Before Your Create You Must Research
Tricked you! Sorry.
Before we write anything (yes, even opinion pieces), we have to gather some data to support the content and our belief that the content is worth creating.
Without data to guide your content, you’ll be operating (largely) in the dark. Imagine if I hadn’t looked around at marketing agencies for their content before I wrote this article. I could have spent a thousand words going over how to create a content strategy. And it would have been a useless article because HubSpot not only already wrote that article, they did an incredible job at it.
Just like the strategy we discussed in the previous section, your research need not be complicated or exhaustive. Most times, you can find the information you need from an hour or less of searching online.
I just googled some terms like ‘how to develop a content strategy’ and read the highest ranking articles. HubSpot’s piece showed up, and I knew I could keep the strategy section short and focus on the parts of being a content marketer that have gotten less attention and are most relevant to you.
For every topic you want to create content around research that topic. If you find others have already said what you want to say, it might be wise to amend your content or scrap the piece entirely. A major reason to engage in content marketing is to create something people want to read (or view in the case of video). If another source has already created that content, you’ll be competing directly for reader (and search engine) attention.
Research Breakdown #1: Topic
Okay, let’s say you’re a tech industry professional with a history in coding. You’ve written a handful of technical manuals and now you want to use content marketing strategies to help your books stand out.
Now let’s imagine Google has just announced an algorithm update and you want to use this as an opportunity to create a piece of content. We line everything up; a topic of interest to your target audience you have the skills and authority to dissect.
Where do you start?
Research. Read any announcements from Google, then look for industry professionals who’ve published their reactions. Make notes about the opinions and facts circulating. Do you see an angle you can take that others haven’t? Or maybe no one has published a solid how-to for less tech savvy folks.
Find a way to approach the topic that is both relevant and new.
Research Breakdown #2: Keywords
You will have to balance distributing your content to your network winning new readers/followers through an online search. If you’re focusing on your existing network, you’ll have a good sense of what resonates with them. But for broader appeal, you’ll want to optimize your content for search.
Regardless of the audience you’re targeting, I advocate for making your content search engine friendly. With search being so pervasive (we search about 40,000 times per second), it is well worth your time to help boost your content through search results. According to some measures, more than half of all website traffic comes from search. Skipping search engine optimization (SEO) means you rely on your existing audience alone to read your content and buy your books.
Fortunately, you can optimize for SEO without a huge effort.
First, take out a pen and paper (or open a fresh Doc) and write 5-10 terms or phrases that you think of when you think about your topic. Then write out a question about the topic using each of those terms or phrases. Finally, take what you’ve created, open an Incognito Window and search each term/phrase and question.
I like to make a spreadsheet and copy in the top three (non-Ad!) links for each search. Now I can see what other companies and individuals are writing about (or making videos about) within the same topic I’m considering.
This should give you a lot of material to consider. Think about how you can write about the topic without redoing the existing articles. Maybe you can even use some of these results as source material, just like I’ve done with HubSpot’s guide above.
And finally, as you write your article, weave in those terms/phrases and questions. With about 30 minutes of work, you’ve done some basic keyword research and enriched your post without going overboard trying to build an SEO powerhouse.
Since you’re an author, this should be easy. You know what you’ll be writing about, you’ve got a solid keyword list, and you’re more than capable of writing. So do your thing.
There are few solid guidelines to follow here. If you want to win at SEO, you’ll want to iterate a few headlines and look for something that is catchy, differs from existing content, and features the most important keywords prominently. Despite your writing skills and the practice you already have from an author a book, writing Content (capital ‘C’ content) is a different beast.
The goal of your content is to draw in readers. Joanna Penn, a well-known content marketer and authority on publishing, calls content “the engine that can drive people to your website.” Getting that engine going means you’re optimized for search (so readers find you), the content is interesting (so they want to read), and proves your expertise (so they buy your book).
Alongside building an SEO ready piece of content that is unique, you’ll want to observe some of the best practice for web-writing. These can be a challenge (I struggle with some of these principles still) because you must retrain yourself to write differently.
- Writing short, clear, and declarative sentences
- Breaking up your content with regular sub-headings
- Using images and video
Most likely you’ll start with blogging (being a writer and all). But content marketing takes on many forms. Video is very popular today, so if you have the equipment (like a smartphone) and the willingness, you could create YouTube content.
Distributing Your Content
How you get your content into your reader’s hands (or onto their screens more often) is the part of content marketing that content marketers will tell you is the hardest. And potentially most crushing. You will see some discouraging numbers. Best to steel yourself for that now.
No matter what kind of content you make, you’ll want to host it on your author website. That way everyone engaging with your content is only a click away from buying your book!
You should also leverage free tools like Google Analytics and Search Console to help track how many people visit your site, which pages they visit, and about one million other things. You don’t have to go too deep into understanding the data immediately. Primarily you’ll look for trends. Did views and sessions peek last Monday? Why?
That data will help inform which pieces of content are performing well (as in people are reading/viewing the content) and how people find that content.
Know Your Readers
One of the most useful parts of data tracking will reveal who engages with your content and how they find it. No, you won’t get detailed specifics about the individual, but again you can use trends to make educated guesses.
Imagine you notice a spike in readers. Your analytics might show that most of those users came from a Facebook post. Go back and examine that post and the content it led too. Odds are good you’ll find something in the content and the post you can replicate.
Believe it or not, at this point, you are officially a content marketer!
I could end this post right here, because the final point (making sales) is secondary. Yes, of course you need to sell books, but content marketing is a strategy based on connections and value over direct sales. If you’ve never heard of the 1,000 True Fan theory, it’s the idea that all you need are a certain number of ‘true fans’ who will always buy what you produce to earn a living.
You will not earn true fans by pushing sales on them. Trust is the name of the game. First you offer something valuable for free, then you continue offering value (still free), and eventually the person reading/viewing your content will want more. That’s when they buy what you’re selling.
The formula is proven, though it can take time and be disheartening. Pouring hours into a blog post or video that gets 30 views in a month is…hard.
We build successful content marketing on consistency and momentum. Create a strategy and stick to it. If the strategy isn’t working, evaluate why and redesign. If it is working, look for opportunities to improve. One major area is in SEO; if you’ve created content that your readers love, Google will notice people are clicking on and staying on your site.
Take that successful content and dig into optimizing it for SEO. Now the content that people like will surface higher in search results, more people will find it (and like it), and your traffic will increase.
By using content marketing principles, you can grow your author brand (meaning people will know who you are) and build up sales. The process is slow, but if you stick with it, you should enjoy more and more sales with each new title you release! Consistency and building on momentum are vital to content marketers. Unless you win the content lottery and your author brand really blows up, you must stick with a plan that builds value day by day, over a long period.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.