Ultimate guide to content marketing

Become a content marketing pro!

Learn everything you need to know about content marketing, from strategies to SEO optimisation and all the elements that contribute to a complete content marketing approach for your business. If you’re not investing in content marketing, you’re going to get left behind.

In this expert guide to content marketing, we’ll show you how we create valuable content that resonates with audiences and drives results for businesses and brands. It’s the ultimate guide to content marketing. The lessons here should help you create better content that’s 100% focused on customers.

What is content marketing?

Let’s start with a definition: Content marketing is online material created to help boost the profile of your brand and build connections with customers and clients without aggressively promoting your brand. 

It’s not about giving people the hard sell but about providing valuable content that improves the perception of your brand.

Content marketing channels include:

  • Blogs
  • Branded content (Ebooks, whitepapers, lead magnets)
  • Social media
  • PPC
  • Newsletters

As well as written content channels, in 2023, content marketing also includes audio and visual media, like:

  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Animations

You can approach content marketing on a piece-by-piece basis, but the real power of content is unleashed when you use it strategically.

We call this customer-first content. Putting your customers at the centre of your content marketing strategy is the only way you’ll create material with genuine value. The result is content that creates human connections. The result is a huge boost in brand perception, customer engagement, and sales.

Does content marketing still work in 2023?

Content marketing is more important than ever. Strategic content marketing can help

Some businesses are put-off content marketing because they’re unsure of how it contributes to the bottom line. Customers want to buy from brands and businesses they trust. A recent survey by online software business Stackla found that 80% of consumers want their brands to be authentic.

The purpose of content marketing is to tell your brand story. It’s about making your brand and business tangible. Content can also be used to improve the user experience, reduce friction in the sales process, and provide first-level technical support.

We know from the brands and businesses that collaborate with us that content marketing can help brands increase search engine ranking, increase sales, and boost profits – but only if it’s done strategically.

Stats from SEMRush’s State of Content Marketing: 2023 Global Report demonstrate that content marketing is more important than ever in 2023:

  • 45% are publishing more content and publishing more frequently
  • 44% said improving the quality and value of their content has led to success
  • 42% said updating existing content has boosted their content marketing value
  • 41% said analysing their competitors influenced the success of their strategy
  • 40% said creating more visual and video content improved their content marketing

Businesses are often concerned about investing in content marketing because of its perceived cost and the challenges in assessing impact. While it’s simple to draw a line from PPC ad impressions to clicks and customer sales, the impact of brand building on the bottom line through content marketing is tougher to analyse. We’re not going to enter into the PPC v content debate here but look out for a future post.

Building a customer-first content strategy

At 42group, we take a strategic approach to content – and you should too. The purpose of content marketing is to improve your brand perception among key customer groups. It’s also to establish authority in your niche area – something you can only achieve by creating content with value.

We offer our clients a comprehensive range of content marketing services, including:

  • Customer analysis
  • Competitor content audits
  • Keyword analysis
  • Message hierarchy
  • Content calendar
  • Content creation
  • Content management
  • Content editing
  • AI-content support (ChatGPT & others)

Our clients can pick individual services, but the real power comes from developing a customer-first content strategy.

This list contains all the elements you need to consider when considering content marketing for your business. In this section, we’re going to work through each of these content areas, explaining what they are, and why they are a critical part of creating killer content.

Customer analysis

Who are you writing for? It’s a question that too few businesses ask themselves before investing in content marketing.

Before defining your content marketing strategy, you should invest in developing customer insights that will inform your planning. The first think to look at is the performance of your current content. Using freely available tools such as Google Analytics, you can assess:

  • What content is popular? – Google Analytics can provide valuable information on content trends. You can see what’s proving popular, and what’s not.
  • What content is being shared? – Review what content your audience is sharing and what’s being ignored. This can highlight the type of content that resonates with your audience.
  • What content is ranking? – You can use Google to see what content (if any) is ranking well on Google.

Researching your current content and assessing performance can help you identify what’s popular among your audience and what’s not.

It’s essential that you explore your audience and understand what they’re searching for (literally in terms of keywords) and the content they want from brands.

Creating personas is a useful approach in helping to define your audience. They can help you understand their characteristics and buying behaviour, which can influence everything from channel selection to tone of voice.

You can develop personas as a paper-based exercise involving internal staff. If you’re a big business (with budgets to match), then research such as surveys and focus groups can provide valuable insights.

Pro tip: Before creating a content strategy, develop a clearly defined vision of your reader. Use every scrap of intelligence inside your organisation and outside of it to develop personas.

Competitor content audits

If your business operates in a competitive industry, sector, or service niche, you should check out the content your competitors are producing.

Billions of blogs and web pages are being published each day, which means competition for key search terms is higher than ever before. Businesses and brands are vying for our attention, but they only have an estimated 14 seconds to do it.

The purpose of checking out your competitors’ content isn’t to copy it. There are many moral and ethical reasons why this is a bad idea which we won’t go into here. Instead, it’s about learning what resonates with audiences and ranks in search engines.

While you won’t be able to access Google analytics, spending a few hours at a desk with a computer can help you to learn a lot about competitors. You can check out content that’s ranking, the sort of branded content your competitors are producing, and what’s proving popular on social channels. If they’re investing in PPC, you can also assess ad strength, too.

A content gap analysis can help you identify areas where you don’t have any content. You may spot specific post ideas or whole subject matter areas you’re currently ignoring.

Pro tip: Gather information on competitors and use this as inspiration for your own ideas. Don’t EVER copy a competitor’s content.

Keyword analysis

If you’ve got customer questions, Google’s Keyword Planner often has the answer. Keyword planner can help you identify the core keywords your customers are searching for.

If you’re reading this, we’re guessing you already know how to use Keyword Planner. (If not, check out Google’s simple-to-follow Keyword Planner guide.)

One of the important recent development Keyword Planner can support with is the growth of voice search. In the States, 50% of people use voice search, with most preferring it to text. It’s only going to become more popular – and it will impact the content you create.

We use Keyword Planner for optimisation and identifying high-value keywords, as well as niche keywords your competitors may be missing out on. Keyword Planner can also help you identify new content avenues and ideas.

Pro tip: Use Keyword Planner to identify focus keywords and generate new ideas for content. Consider the impact of voice search, and design content to appeal to Alexa.

Message hierarchy

Your message hierarchy defines your core and supplementary messages. Creating a message hierarchy provides structure and clarity for your core messages. By putting your core messages down on paper, you can ensure that every piece of content boosts your brand.

Your business message hierarchy should:

  • Define your business vision and mission
  • Create an Elevator pitch.
  • Outline your USP and core values.
  • Fine-tune your tone of voice
  • Identify key market segments, buyer personas, and industry verticals
  • Develop a clear value proposition

This sounds like a huge amount to work through, but it doesn’t have to be. If your company already has a strong brand, an established tone of voice, and clear guidelines, you can define your core messages in a short and simple briefing sheet.

Pro tip: Build your message hierarchy around customers, not your boss.

Content calendar

By this stage, you’ll have a clear understanding of your customers, and clarity on your messages, now it’s time to create a content calendar that identifies the type of content you want to create and the channel.

At 42group, we’re big fans of focusing on pillar content. When defining a content campaign, we identify a focus area (keyword, customer segment, or subject), and then develop a core piece of content that works as the engine room.

How does that work? Err, you’re reading it…

Our Expert guide to content marketing is a long and detailed piece of content with value for readers. Traditionally, this piece of content would be gated, but in 2023 that’s a bad idea. (It’s not searchable, people are more protective of their email addresses, and we expect valuable content for free.)

Here’s how we could (and probably will) use this guide strategically.

  • Blogs – We’ll use this expert content guide as a jumping-off point for future blogs. Conceivably, every section could work as a 2,000+ word piece of content. The result is value for readers and some serious SEO benefits.
  • Branded content (Ebooks, whitepapers, lead magnets) – If we chose to, we could brand this expert guide up and let you download it for free.
  • Social media – We’ll promote this on our social media channels, including Twitter and LinkedIn. This will help to amplify its reach.
  • PPC – If we want to increase clicks to the website, we could use this content guide as a landing page for PPC campaigns. It’s a softer sell for our audience but would deliver similar interest from those with the same intent.
  • Newsletters – We don’t currently have a newsletter, but if we did, this would be top of the articles list.

Over the course of the year, we would replicate this process 3 or 4 times (once a quarter is enough). We’d plug everything we do into a calendar, showing how every piece of content contributes to our overall business objective (to increase visibility for our content marketing offer and generate more enquiries).

Creating a content calendar provides clear deadlines for everyone involved in the project. It also illustrates how every piece of content has the same ultimate outcome.

Pro tip: To keep your project on track, create a shared calendar in Google Sheets (or your productivity software) and give everyone access. Use this as a central repository for content management, ensuring everything is delivered according to plan.

Content creation

Content creation is where everything starts to take shape! We’re not going to explain how to write content here, as that’s a whole other challenge (and something we’re covering in another detailed post!).

If you’ve followed the steps to this point, you’ll have a clear idea of your audience, competitors, and the type of content that your audience is searching for.

If you’re developing an integrated content campaign, you’ll have decided on a mix of content types, including:

  • Blogs
  • Branded content (Ebooks, whitepapers, lead magnets)
  • Social media
  • PPC
  • Newsletters

Before commissioning any content (even a few PPC ads or a short blog), you must create a brief.

To help you, we’ve created an in-depth guide on how to create a content marketing brief. As well as outlining the process you should follow, we’ve shared a template brief that you can use.

Pro tip: Never commission content or work with a writer unless you have a clear brief. For that, read our guide on how to write a beautiful content marketing brief.

Content management

Content creation is the fun part (for us, at least), but you’ll need to ensure you have a process for content management. That includes posting blogs online, sharing content through social media, and managing PPC ads.

The first part of your content management process is quality-checking all content to ensure that it’s well-written, customer-focused, and captures your tone of voice. When working with multiple freelancers, you’ll need an in-house editorial team. If you work with an agency like 42group, we’ll do that for you, delivering 100% publication-ready content for every channel.

We’re big fans of automating content publication, including pre-loading blogs with pre-set publication dates and pre-scheduled social posts. Instead of waiting until the last minute, the best content managers are serious about planning.

Your content team should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, with everyone aware of what’s happening and when.

Pro tip: Define roles and responsibilities and pre-plan content publication, sharing, and syndication.

Content editing

The world changes, and so must your content. The most switched-on brands and businesses regularly edit, update, and amend core pieces of content to keep them fresh and relevant. Reviewing old content can also help you identify any access issues, ensuring the best reader experience.

We recommend that you review core pieces of content every year. You should read through the content with a fresh pair of eyes, identifying any technical issues and content updates. It’s a good idea to add more information to pages if it adds value to readers.

If you’re dealing with rapidly changing technologies or solutions (say you’re an SEO agency, for example), you’ll want to review content more frequently. Why? Because no customer will trust you if your Google Analytics guide isn’t 100% focused on GA4.

Pro tip: Plan to review all core content at least every 12 months.

Review & refine your content strategy

The best content-focused companies will regularly review and refine their content strategies. The wants, needs and motivations of your customers change. We’re in a cost-0f-living crisis where cash is tight. Brands need their content to reflect the reality of the world we’re living in today, not how it was in the past.

As an agency, we often work with clients who want to refresh their content or get a trusted partner to cast an expert eye over their content strategy or published material.

When reviewing content, work through this list and ensure content reaches the required standard, including:

  • Content is focused on customers
  • It’s unique, written by humans, and technically accurate
  • All online content links are working
  • Every piece of content adds value to the reader and the company
  • Keywords are used intelligently and efficiently
  • Content structure is optimised and easy-to-read
  • Messages follow the established hierarchy
  • Tone of voice is clear and on-brand
  • Content has a clear strategic purpose and

As part of our content refresh process, we work through every piece of content applying this filter. If the content isn’t delivering the outcomes it could or having the impact it should, we make recommendations about how it can be improved. This can be as simple as a spring clean to optimise it for SEO or a complete re-write for inaccurate or outdated content.

Go forth and create better content…

It’s always going to be a challenge to condense 20 years’ experience into a few thousand words, but we hope this guide will give you the confidence to start creating better content.

Approach your content strategically, and put your customers first. Focus on providing value to your readers, and you’ll find a massive boost to your SEO performance. Create shareable, original, and engaging content and you’ll smash it.

Go forth and create better content!

Create customer-first content with 42group

Publishing a random 500-word post every month won’t help your business – but it could damage your brand. The most effective content strategies are built around customers and driven by data and insights – and it’s what we do best.

There’s no hard sell here; we’re confident we’re the UK’s leading content agency. Check out some of our clients, learn about our services, and contact us if you want to improve your content.

Get in touch

Get in touch

Content marketing FAQs

Got a question about content marketing? We’ll answer it for you. Here are some of the questions we’ve been asked, and that you’re asking Google (Keyword Planner and Answer Socrates are great resources).

What is content marketing?

Content marketing describes content used to increase interest in your product, service, or solution. It’s not about explicitly promoting your service, or selling your product, but about a value exchange – you’re aiming to provide information, insight, and even a little inspiration to your existing and potential customers.

You can view content marketing as brand building. Content marketing includes a huge range of activities, including:

  • Blogs
  • Branded content (Ebooks, whitepapers, lead magnets)
  • Social media
  • PPC
  • Newsletters

We’re also seeing audio and visual content (podcasts, video, and animations) as part of integrated content marketing strategies.

Is content marketing effective?

Yes! We’re in an economic crisis, and every business is investing in marketing to get ahead. Content marketing is a powerful channel to help you reach new customers. Unlike PPC, which captures search intent at a specific point in time, content marketing can help your business establish a sustainable advantage in any market. Whether you’re in B2B, B2C, or

We’re not going to cut and paste, but here are some superb stats from Semrush on why content marketing is critical in 2023.

Is content marketing videos?

No content marketing isn’t video, but video plays a valuable role in a value-driven content marketing strategy.

The stats on video engagement are pretty incredible. Millennials (some) and Gen Z (the majority) are more likely to consume video content than sit there and read a blog. That doesn’t mean that written content (blogs, whitepapers, online content) has no future, but if you’re not adding audio-visual content to your digital marketing mix, you’re missing out.

How do content marketing and SEO work together?

Successful SEO and content marketing are integrated. SEO-optimised blogs play a key part of a successful content marketing strategy, but you’ll want to do more to boost your brand online, including adding ebooks, whitepapers, social media and (possibly) PPC. You should also consider animations and video too, as they’re increasingly popular content channels for all brands.

Is content creation the same as copywriting?

Excellent question! Copywriting and content are separate and different disciplines that demand different skills.

Is it worth investing in content marketing?

Content marketing is a valuable channel to engage your audience, provide value, increase SEO and drive sales. All from one blog? Sadly, not.

To achieve sustainable results from content marketing, you must approach it strategically – that means building up an integrated programme of content marketing activities that build a picture of your brand to customers, website visitors, social media viewers, and search engines.

Does my business need content marketing?

It depends. PPC can provide your business with instant visibility, and, for some businesses, it’s the most effective strategy for short-term success. However, to establish a long-term sustainable advantage, you should invest in content marketing.

You’ve read the stats above (right?), and the reasons should be obvious. If your business isn’t investing in content marketing, be prepared to get beat by your competitors. You have been warned….

Should I work with a specialist content marketing agency?

The age of the full-service agency is dead; long live the specialist agency!

Content marketing demands a specific skill. You want expert writers who understand your business and approach the task with experience, insight, and enthusiasm. SEO agencies and design agencies will either have a junior writer, outsource to cut-price content mills, or *shudder* use AI to generate content.

While some non-specialist content agencies can probably produce good content, we would always recommend working with a specialist content agency (err, like 42group!).

Can I trust my SEO agency to manage content?

There are two questions here:

Do you want your SEO agency to upload content to your website and share it on social channels? You can trust your SEO agency to do this.

Do you want your SEO agency to drive your content strategy, create all materials, post to channels, and provide ongoing support? You can not trust your SEO agency to do this.

Why can’t you trust your SEO agency to do this? It’s not their core skill set. SEO agencies aren’t expert writers, they’re not trained journalists, and their sole focus will be to increase your ranking. That often (but admittedly, not always) means content isn’t written for audiences, but algorithms.

Is content marketing the same as blogging?

Content marketing is a strategic approach to creating content that boosts your business and builds your brand. While almost all content marketing strategies include blogs, it’s much broader than that, including branded content (Ebooks, whitepapers, lead magnets), social media, PPC, and newsletters – as well as other specialist content.

How can I write a content marketing brief?

Great question. We’ve created a detailed post showing you how to write a content marketing brief that will ensure every piece is positioned perfectly and 100% focused on your customers.

Why is my SEO content not ranking?

There are loads of reasons why your SEO content isn’t ranking. In fact, we identified 22 reasons – all of which you can read about in this detailed blog. When you identify why your SEO content isn’t ranking, call us for a solution.

What should I pay for a blog in 2023?

You should notice a theme here…. A bog-standard, badly written, and boring blog will cost you just £50. But is that what you really want for your brand? A well-written, targeted, and totally fantastic blog from 42group can cost you around £150. Read more about what to pay for a blog in 2023 in our post here.

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