The main objective of your business website should be lead generation: building an email list.
For small brick-and-mortar businesses, a website often serves as an online storefront, which is beneficial when your site comes up on local searches. Visitors need your address, phone number, or business hours, but they’re also browsing around before deciding whether they’ll take the next step.
And you don’t want to lose them.
They’re just looking in the window for now, but you want to give them a good reason to return. That’s why your top priority should be building relationships with visitors who are already interested in what you offer.
Content marketing is how you keep these visitors interested and encourage them to subscribe to your list.
This might seem basic for some readers. But the enormous amount of information available can be overwhelming—and confusing. And you want to be sure you’ve got the facts straight.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is marketing that’s based on supplying random visitors, leads, and prospects with valuable free content, which provides an opportunity to showcase your paid products or services.
It’s easy to mix up. It’s not about marketing your content. It’s about using your content as a marketing tool to sell something.
That content could be blog posts, video tutorials, infographics, podcasts, free ebooks, reports and white papers, or a series of lessons or tutorials. The possibilities are almost unlimited, and they’re often combined.
Sonia Simone, marketing guru at Copyblogger Media, explains in an interview: “The best content comes out of a relationship between the business and the customer — great content solves real problems and becomes a trusted resource. Content, when it’s done well, has independent value to the audience, not just value to the business that created it.”
In a nutshell, content marketing is all about educating visitors by providing free information and resources related to your paid offerings (products, services, or both). The better your content marketing, the more visitors eventually become customers.
How does content marketing relate to my email list?
If you want your website to serve as more than just an online storefront, you need a compelling reason for people to visit and want more. Your content provides the attraction, the reason to subscribe to your list, and the reason for people to stay on the list.
Valuable content that solves problems is why readers subscribe for updates, but the email list itself can also be used to deliver content separate from what’s on your website.
And by providing a clearly visible, easy-to-use sign-up form, you let people know there’s a way to subscribe, and you can encourage them by offering a free “opt-in incentive.” This is another part of content marketing, and it could be almost anything like a downloadable ebook, a report, or a short, educational course that’s delivered by email to your list.
Keep in mind that the email list generated by content marketing should be an opt-in email list based on permission marketing.
How does content help me sell my product or service?
Your content and email list serve as a communication bridge between you and your website visitors and, as your authority and reputation grow, many visitors become customers.
Take Marcus Sheridan, for example, and his swimming pool company that nearly crashed with the housing market back in 2008. By developing a blog loaded with informative, well-written content, he was able to save his company.
After all, even in a down economy, somebody wants to install a swimming pool. And it’s not usually an impulse buy; it’s an investment in lifestyle. Pool installation prices, styles, and sizes need to be investigated as well as maintenance and upkeep like cleaning and winterizing.
Well-written information on pool-related topics forms the website content, and opt-in incentives (to encourage list subscription) include a downloadable buying guide and an educational DVD.
During the sales cycle—from lead generation to actual purchase—Sheridan had time to earn customer trust and respect through that content, and his company was able to turn the tide, beat the competition, and succeed even during difficult economic times.
Can I give away too much free content?
You might wonder Why should I give away so much free information? Why would anyone buy if they can get it for free?
If you’re selling tangible products like swimming pools—or maybe you own a bicycle shop—you’re probably not too worried. It’s easy to see how a website with content about cycling will sell bikes and accessories both locally and online. You can share everything you know about cycling, but you’re not giving away your actual products.
If you’re selling digital information products or consulting services, on the other hand—let’s say you’re an interior designer— why should you supply readers with everything they need to know to furnish and design the look of their own homes?
The answer is simple: people don’t have time, they don’t have the skills, and they’re receiving your knowledge in bits and pieces. And it isn’t nearly enough to make them the experienced, creative professional that you are.
Sure, they’ll sew a few pillows, paint a few rooms, and coordinate the French Country look you describe in an article or two. But they aren’t likely to get it just right, and they don’t have time to do the whole house.
Plus, there’s status involved in hiring a professional interior decorator, and part of what you’re selling is image—your customer’s image, how they see themselves, and how they want others to see them.
So if you feel like you’re giving too much away or you’re being too helpful, you’re on the right path.
When your content is useful and informative, and if it solves visitor problems, they want more. People sign up to your list, they want what you’re selling, and they buy because they trust you and feel like they know you through your content and the relationships you’ve nurtured through it. That’s the essence of content marketing.
Over to you.
What type of content do you use for your marketing? Is there some aspect of content marketing you believe is particularly important? Share your ideas in the comments.