July 28, 2020

How to Plan a Sustainable Content Strategy in Any Industry

Investing in content marketing is a viable strategy, even if you're in a competitive industry.

Despite that, it's easy to go wrong and end up wasting thousands before pulling the plug and going back to channels thatworked before, like paid, or simply relying on referrals.

No matter the industry you're in, when you just start with content marketing, you're going to be up against established companies. In most cases, they'll have been publishing content for years and perfecting their SEO strategy.

But, that shouldn't put you off.

Firstly, it validates your hypothesis that content will probably deliver results (after all, why would they still be publishing if it didn't work?). Second, it gives you a good target to aim for. Everyone likes to beat the competition.

In this post, I'm going to walk you through our process for creating a sustainable content marketing strategy that's going to help drive results, eliminate guesswork, and get a strong foothold in your industry through content marketing.

Let's dive in.

Is SEO and Content Marketing a Viable Channel?

No matter what industry you're in, content can be a major lever for growth.

But, it's hard, and you should set expectations.

It will take time to see results. We usually tell our clients that they should be prepared to see no significant ROI for 3-8 months. I know, that doesn't inspire confidence, but any agency or consultant that promises 'guaranteed rankings' or 'results in weeks' is overestimating their skills, or lying.

It's also worth realizing that you'll need to target a variety of keywords that aren't what you may have thought at first.

If you're targeting a keyword like "digital marketing", most company blogs are never going to rank on Page 1, let alone Position 1.

keyword research process

As you can see from this Ahrefs screenshot, it's extremely difficult to rank for.

Unless you're a company like HubSpot, Wikipedia, or the Chartered Institute of Marketing (just a few of the brands ranking highly for this keyword), it's going to take a long, long time to rank well for it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's impossible. But it will take you time, especially if you're just starting out with your content marketing.

To get around this problem you'll need to identify opportunities for growth that are realistic.

Focusing On High Volume Keywords is Dangerous

If you only focus on popular high volume keywords when you're planning your content strategy, you're not going to see results.

They're simply too competitive.

If you do your own search for a keyword that broadly describes your product, you'll see that it's already dominated by the major players.

For example, if you're searching for a CRM, without even looking it up you could guess that Page 1 will be dominated by companies like HubSpot, Zoho, and Salesforce.

Smaller brands simply won't have the clout to rank well for a term like that organically, and if they're aspiring to rank for CRM, it'll take months to years.

Over time, you'll be able to rank for competitive keywords in your industry.

But, when you're just starting out they're not always the best use of your time, as you'll see close to zero ROI on them for a long time.

Finding Relevant Keywords to Target

No matter what industry  you're in, people will have questions that are more common, and questions that are less common.

That will translate to search volume, and keyword difficulty.

As a rough rule of thumb, if people are searching for a keyword less, it'll be easier to rank for (warning: this isn't always true).

We'll refer to these keywords as Low Hanging Fruit (LHF).

Your LHF will be keywords that are relatively easy to rank for and will be an easy way to inject your brand into the search results, and start growing your traffic.

It'll be far easier to gain early traffic from LHF than it would be to get traffic from hyper-competitive keywords.

In basic terms, as you start ranking for low difficulty keywords and traffic starts flowing to your site, this will send good signals to Google that will help you rank for higher difficulty keywords.

How to Find Your Low-Hanging Fruit

You probably have a decent idea of what your ideal customers are searching for, even if you don't have any prior experience with content marketing or SEO as a strategy.

Despite this, I'd still recommend using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs.

These will show you data and benchmarks on how many searches different terms get per month, and how easy they'll be to rank for.

Let's say you're in the food and drink industry, offering a product or service related to "coffee".

As you can expect, coffee would be a keyword that will be hard to rank for.

Low hanging fruit keywords

Image: Coffee

So, how can you make SEO work for you if you're in the coffee business?

Using Ahrefs you can find terms that all include "coffee", but are longer-tail, less competitive.

Let's see how.

I'm a big fan of the the "Questions" tab in Ahrefs.

Head there, and add a filter to remove searches with a high keyword difficulty. As we're in a competitive industry, I've chosen to fitler out everything over a KD of 10.

Keyword research answering questions

Instantly, we have a few blog post ideas.

  • How Long Does Coffee Last For?
  • How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee (Complete Guide)
  • How to Clean Your Cuisinart Coffee Maker
  • How Long Should You Leave Your Coffee Opened For?

These are all ideas that could bring your ideal customer, a coffee lover, to your site.

They're simple ideas, but that's fine.

You can differentiate your content by making it better, answering the questions in a more complete way.

For example, you could record a video of you cleaning a Cuisinart coffee maker, and embed it in your blog post.

You could create a guide that shows how long coffee lasts for, breaking it up into sections focused on raw beans, ground coffee, brewed coffee, cold brew, and so on.

As your site starts ranking for these 'easy' keywords, it'll become easier to rank for higher difficulty keywords.

But, Will This Work in 'Any' Industry?

This process is repeatable across pretty much any industry.

While there may be more complex ways to find content ideas, in my experience, they're usually not necessary when you're just starting out.

If you've been creating content for years and have your bases covered, this strategy may be less relevant, but, in most cases, there are still going to be some cheap wins available to you.

Mixing in Keywords with Purchase Intent

Now, I know what you might be thinking.

Content marketing needs to deliver results.

Starting out with keywords that are easy to rank for is fine, but it's pointless if no one buys from you.

To ensure you're driving bottom-of-the-funnel traffic, you can sprinkle in a few content ideas that have real purchase intent behind them.

We've written about this before, and you can click here to check out our article on bottom-of-the-funnel content ideas.

These will be keywords that you know someone who is looking to buy your product or service will care about.

It's up to you to know what pain points you solve, so keyword research tools can't do all the heavy lifting here.

Figure out what pain points your customers have, and what jobs they want to do that you can help them with.

Create content around those areas, even if they don't show much volume in a tool like Ahrefs.

You can also head to Google, and type in your main keyword.

In most cases, you'll see a few ads, then a mixture of blog posts, and company homepages.

For example, let's say you own a software company that helps brands send emails to their subscribers, i.e., an email marketing platform.

An easy bottom-of-funnel content idea that will bring qualified leads to your site is to write a blog post on the "Best Email Marketing Software".

bottom funnel keywords

As you can see, all of the top organic results are on this.

Luckily, most of these will look pretty similar in terms of content.

If you can differentiate your article, improve upon the existing ones, and provide more value, you'll have a good shot at ranking.

You'll be able to have a regular flow of people coming to your post who you know are looking for a solution exactly like yours.

You can also create content targeting competitor keywords and see great results, and we get more in-depth on that here.

Prioritizing Content Ideas in Your Content Calendar

Now, let's assume you've been through these steps and have a spreadsheet or similar document full of content ideas.

The next step is to prioritize them.

It's not easy to decide what to prioritize first, especially if you have ideas that have similar search volume and similar keyword difficultly.

There's no exact science to this, but here are the main frameworks we use:

Based on Where It Fits In Your Funnel

Firstly, you can prioritize based on the purchase intent behind the keyword.

In my opinion, it always makes sense to prioritize creating bottom-of-funnel content, as it usually has a higher conversion rate, meaning your content will start generating ROI sooner.

That said, top-of-funnel content does still play a role.

It casts a wide net, and you can then re-target your site visitors and nurture them towards a purchase.

To strike a balance, we'd recommend finding space for both types in your content calendar.

If you're writing four blog posts a month, a 50/50 split between top vs. bottom-of-funnel content would make sense.

The longer you post for, the more likely the balance will skew towards top-of-funnel.

Based on Keyword Value

If you want to get more scientific, you can use the data Ahrefs provides to prioritize ideas based on the real cost of that traffic.

Ahrefs provides a Cost Per Click estimate alongside, the Volume and Difficulty estimates.

Keyword Value

You can use this to figure out the value of each blog posts' traffic will bring to your site.

This is pretty simple.

Keyword Volume * CPC = Monthly Traffic Cost

For example, our keyword "how long does coffee last", would cost $188/month if we wanted to bid on that keyword in Google Ads.

Prioritizing content ideas

If you want to get more granular, you can then divide this monthly cost by Keyword Difficulty.

Let's export these, throw them into Google Sheets (or Excel) and I'll show you exactly what I mean.

Keyword value and prioritization

As you can see, I've divided the Monthly Cost (Column E) by Difficulty (Column B) and totaled it in Column F.

Then, I've filtered from high to low.

In a few easy steps, we've prioritized our content ideas based on the total value of traffic they could bring to the business in a month.

Obviously, this is a rough calculation, and assumes that our content will end up in Position 1. That's the goal, of course, but realistically, it'll take time to get there, no matter how 'easy' a keyword is to rank for.

Should You Still Target 'High Difficulty' Keywords?

Yes, you should.

At some point, you're going to want to rank for the main keywords in your market, no matter how hard they are.

I'd recommend creating content around those topics.

Throw in one or two big posts per month on those and update them over time.

But don't expect your blog posts that are focused on a hyper-competitive keyword to rank in the near future.

Content Marketing in Competitive Industries - Is It Something You Should Pursue?

In summary, I'm a firm believer that no matter how competitive your industry is, it's always possible to do well with content.

You do have to put the work in to create awesome content that's going to give you a shot at ranking.

It is going to take time. But in the end, you can be getting a consistent flow of traffic that would cost you thousands (or tens of thousands) per month in equivalent costs for paid ads.

The great power of content marketing is that it compounds over time, and the cost of your content goes down.

Unlike ads, your blog posts won't go anywhere if you stop paying.

They're assets that will live on your site for a long time, driving qualified, relevant traffic that you can then get on your email list, and nurture into paying customers.

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