Whether you call it content marketing, inbound marketing, digital marketing, or business blogging, a common question I get asked is, “Marcus, what the heck should our business be writing about?”
The right content can help your business grow, no matter your industry, but there are a lot of low-value articles being published these days under the mantle of “content marketing.”
This "fluffy" content may give you quick boosts in traffic but, ultimately, it does nothing to increase your bottom line or help your sales team reach their revenue goals.
Now, every healthy content marketing strategy covers a mix of topics, and have pieces for readers at different stages of the buyer's journey, but if you're just getting started or failing to see results, you need to zero in.
If you’ve read my book They Ask, You Answer, you know that I recommend publishing articles answering every question your customers ask — even if makes you uncomfortable.
(Actually, especially if it makes you uncomfortable.)
When you do that with regularity and consistency, you’ll quickly establish yourself as the No. 1 most trusted resource in your space. And today, that is the key to winning over your more modern, sophisticated, internet-enabled buyers.
It really is that simple, but it's important to remember, the scope of questions your customers will potentially ask you is limitless.
That's why, after some time of following the principles of They Ask, You Answer for my own business, River Pools and Spas — as well as with hundreds of other clients — I decided to review the data to see if there were any patterns or trends I could identify.
Specifically, I wondered whether the content being published directly correlated to traffic, leads, and sales — the three most critical metrics for any business with a digital sales and marketing strategy.
Lo and behold, I found five specific blog categories — which we now call The Big 5 — consistently outperformed every other blog topic out there, regardless of what industry happened to be publishing them.
According to Google, 53% of shoppers say they always do research before they make a purchase to ensure they are making the best possible choice.
The Big 5 blog topics are catered exactly to this. You may be surprised at how deceptively simple these topics seem. They are:
Cost and pricing.
Best of lists (best in class).
Here’s a video that explains what these topics are and how they work.
For each of The Big 5 categories below, I’ll show you examples from IMPACT’s own content archives, so you can see how to tackle sometimes complex answers in your own business blog articles.
When was the last time you went online to research a product or service before you made a purchase? At a minimum, within the last six months, right?
Maybe you bought a new boat for the family, hired some kind of contractor, or were tasked with finding a new IT service provider for your company. At any point in your research, did you ask how much that thing costs?
If you’re like most modern buyers out there, yeah, you did. But, I’ll bet at some point, you were on a company’s website looking for information about costs, but couldn’t find clear answers.
And when you couldn’t find those answers, how did you feel about that company? It sure didn’t help your confidence in them, did it?
Too many companies don’t want to talk about costs on their website — and it’s typically for all the wrong reasons. These might even be the reasons your company hasn’t written about costs yet.
Do any of these excuses sound familiar?
But our product/services are custom-designed for individual situations.
But then our competitors would know what we’re charging.
But we might scare prospects away before we can explain the costs to them.
I see where you’re coming from. I was once there too. But let’s take a look at these reasons one by one.
Our product/services are custom-designed to individual situations
I get it, each project you do is different. Many factors influence the final costs. Prices can vary. The best short answer you’ve got to how much you charge is: “Well, it depends.”
We can do better. The right answer is to write about the factors that influence costs and at least give a range of possible rates. It’s that simple.
But then our competitors would know what we’re charging
Do they not already? Are they totally clueless? Go look at their website. Are they discussing costs? If so, you better catch up. If not, it’s your chance to get ahead of them.
It might scare away prospects
If you are public about your pricing and what drives your cost up or down and someone walks away because they can't afford you, all you've lost is a lead that you were going to spend time on only to not close.
Being upfront about your cost helps people qualify or disqualify themselves early on.
Even if they can afford you, this honesty also fosters trust. You weren't trying to hide things and surprise them with a price tag. You were upfront and let them know what to expect. People want to do business with businesses they can trust.
Another thing you should be honest about in your content is any possible shortcomings or "problems" that may come with your offering.
Once again, this helps you get in front of the issue to create realistic expectations and even offer ways to avoid them.
Problems articles are articles where you are candid about possible problems with your product, service, or industry, but also present solutions.
Let’s say those folks who started their journey searching “Why is my roof leaking?” discovered that their old shingle roof just has to go. It’s shot. No chance of repairs. Done.
Part of their research will dive into different types of roofing systems: asphalt shingle, metal panels, clay tiles.
While vetting their options, they’ll look up searches like, “problems with clay tiles.”
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but your clay tile roofs won’t always be the best solution for them. Maybe they live in a northern climate with lots of snowfall, and a metal roof would be better. Let’s be honest with them.
Besides, it’s a good way to weed out non-fits for you.
Many of the problems they may have heard about clay roofs might in fact have easy solutions.
The same can be said for managed IT services. Not all prospects are a good fit for your services. To better help these bad-fit prospects weed themselves out, you can write an article on “5 Signs Outsourcing Managed IT Services Is NOT Right for You.”
By addressing problems, you have the opportunity to set the record straight and reduce the number of non-fit prospects reaching out to you for help.
Whatever product or service you sell, it is the solution to a problem your prospects are experiencing, isn’t it?
In many cases, these folks only know the symptoms of their problems and may not have any clue whatsoever that you have the solution. You can write content aimed at the symptoms of their problems and inform them of their options.
If you’re a roofing contractor, you can answer questions like, “Why is my roof leaking?”
You can write articles about how to check for leaks, how to assess water damage and reasons they may want to talk to a roofing contractor.
They have a problem: a leaky roof.
You have solutions: a roof assessment.
If you’re a managed IT services provider, your audience may be searching online for solutions to problems like:
“How can I ensure continuous monitoring of my network and phone systems?”
“How can I save money by reducing the size of my IT department?”
Again, your audience is looking for ways to optimize their IT department while cutting costs. You can write articles demonstrating how outsourcing managed IT services can solve these common problems.
You can also consider writing content about the problems customers commonly make that may come with your competitors. After all, if people are asking about them, you need to answer.
Right around the same time folks are researching problems with the solutions they’re vetting, they’re going to want to see direct comparisons of those solutions.
Which one is best for their situation? How can they decide between them?
Here you have an opportunity to discuss each of their options, the pros and cons of each, how they compare in different categories, and which ones are better under different circumstances.
Just make sure to be as honest as possible in your assessment. And let readers know outright which of those products/services you sell. They should know if you have a particular bias.
If you do have a bias and they find out later, you’ll lose that trust.
During that time you were researching your latest big purchase, did you use words like best or top as part of your search terms? Most likely, right? It’s also one of the most common ways people search.
We want to put all of our options on a spectrum from worst to best and carefully review those on the far right of the spectrum. We start at the farthest right point on the spectrum and walk backward until we find what’s best for us.
There are a couple key “best of” article topics you should write about:
Let’s say your business helps other businesses solve their freight and logistics shipping needs and you provide managed transportation services for your clients.
These folks may already realize they need help to manage their freight solutions and are interested in a list of the best vendors.
How do you think they will search for businesses of your kind?
Whether you’re a retailer or SaaS company of any kind, writing “best of” lists will become your bread and butter.
Let’s say you sell camping equipment. Whether as a local business or an ecommerce site, it doesn’t matter; you could write “best of” articles until you’re old and grey. For every line of product you sell, you can write “best of” lists.
And, you can get as broad or granular as you want.
Best tents under $100.
Best tents for families.
Best tents for winter camping.
Best tents for winter camping at high elevations.
And don’t get too caught up in using the word best. There are lots of other superlative adjectives people would use to search:
Most durable tents.
Easiest tent to clean.
Most expensive tent.
Quickest tent to set up.
Highest rated tents.
Do you have teachable moments related to the products or services you sell? How can people get the results they desire from using your product?
Let’s continue to pretend we sell camping equipment. Our prospects would likely want to know things like:
Best practices for planning a camping trip.
Best practices for starting a fire.
Best practices for catching salmon.
Best practices for cleaning a salmon.
And in each of those article topics, you’ve got a whole bunch of products you can introduce.
Planning a camping trip? You’ll need a tent.
Starting a fire? You’ll need a flint or a fire starter kit.
Fishing? You’ll need some tackle, poles, waders, fillet knives, etc.
As buyers are considering making a purchase, they often want to know if those that shopped before them are delighted by their final choice or have remorse.
They want to know how others feel about the purchases they made. If real people are raving about the purchase, they’re more likely to buy. If others are complaining, they may avoid it.
That's where reviews come in. If you can write honest reviews of the products you sell (and even don’t sell), you’ll connect with more prospects looking for help making purchases. In fact, 95% of buyers report reading reviews before making a purchase.
Typically, when you start with this strategy, you’ll be writing at the bottom of the funnel first; answering questions that are geared toward educating more sales-ready buyers, rather than more top-of-the-funnel topics.
You can start by writing about cost
In our IMPACT+ course, we share “You should get ‘cost’ content out there as fast as possible because cost is one question that’s on everyone’s mind.” It also says that the least important of The Big 5 to get started with is reviews.
Reviews still matter, but they won’t drive that immediate needle movement you’re looking for. And, in some industries, reviews may not matter as much as they would in others.
The key to keep in mind is that, even though your instinct may be to create content to drive traffic first, instead you should initially be creating blog content that enables sales.
Think about it this way — growing traffic is important, but it’s also a long-term game in many ways, especially with more competitive keywords.
However, if you go into content creation mode with a sales-first mindset, a piece you publish today could be used immediately to close a deal tomorrow.
What if we still need help building and executing a content strategy?
From building a content strategy to actually sitting down and writing a blog article, getting down to business with The Big 5 can be a daunting task. (We know this from experience!)
Depending on where you are with the sophistication and understanding of how to create content to drive traffic, leads, and sales in the digital age, one, some, or all of the following resources should be able to help:
Finally, if you’re looking for more than those self-service, self-guided training resources, we also offer content coaching and training for growth-focused businesses who are ready to embrace a proven digital sales and marketing strategy, with The Big 5 right at the center.