What Is Content Marketing? 15 Kinds of Content Marketing

You may have heard of the term “content marketing.” If you have, you’ve probably also heard that it’s important for online businesses. And it’s true.

But you may not be sure what it is.

Content marketing, according to Wikipedia, is

“an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to attract, acquire and engage clearly defined and understood current and potential consumer bases with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

I’ve bolded the headline characteristics, the creation and sharing of content. But it’s important not to lose sight of the objectives and goals behind this content generation and sharing: attracting, acquiring, or engaging customers and driving profitable customer action.

Creating and sharing content in and of itself is not content marketing if it’s not done to achieve these customer-focused goals. It’s also not content marketing if your “content” is really just marketing, promotion, or sales.

Consider these scenarios:

It’s not content marketing if you write a few poems and send them out to a group of your friends. It is content marketing if you are a poet and you create a small, limited-edition ebook of your poems and let fans who subscribe to your mailing list download the ebook.

It’s not content marketing if you have a camera store online and you send out an email to your customer base with all your current promotions. It is content marketing if you create an email with your to 10 tips to help your customers take the best holiday photos.

It’s not content marketing if you’re a car company and you air a commercial on TV (or post it online). It is content marketing if you create a series of short films featuring your cars, as BMW did with its film series called The Hire. (BMW called it “branded content” but it was clearly content marketing of the highest order.)

BMW Films "The Hire" - content marketing, branded content

Content marketing is often an important part of most company’s SEO strategies since web content gives you more things for search engines to index and more opportunities to get inbound links, which will help your web pages rank higher.

Content marketing will also intersect with your social media strategy since when you create content on your website you’ll want to promote it on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. And the sharing of your content on social sites will help support your SEO as well as your initial content marketing objectives.

 Here are 15 popular forms of content marketing:

  1. Blogs: You can blog in just about any style and with any content focus (how to generate ideas for your small business blog). Just make sure you are trying to add value with your content and not just sell your products or promote your business. Blogging can overlap with other items on this list, such as videos, photos, and infographics.
  2. Videos: Video content marketing could be how-tos, interviews, documentaries, humor or other entertainment. You can post videos on your blog, in a video section of your website, and social media sites like Facebook. You can even start your own channel, like this one for EarthLink Business on YouTube.
  3. Photos: You can post photos on your blog, create a special photos section of your website, and post photos to social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook.
  4. Podcasts: Show off your expertise by creating one or a series of podcasts on any subject (think of it as an audio blog).
  5. Webcasts & webinars: A webcast is typically live, streaming video of an event. Webinar takes its name from Web + seminar and should therefore be educational/instructional in nature. Hold periodic webinars to teach others what you know and increase your online authority. Both webinars and webcasts may be live originally but have long-term content marketing value when integrated into your website.
  6. Online communities/forums: Create an online forum or other form of online community to position your business as a leader in your field. (Last week we showed you how to get started by installing PhpBB forums on your website.)
  7. Email newsletters: Create a weekly or monthly newsletter that shows off your knowledge; offers tips, advice, and support; links to related resources, and more. You may include some promotion, but keep the newsletter focused on content or it will be viewed as spam. (Here’s how EarthLink Web Hosting customers can get started with email newsletters using Announcer Pro.) The eLink newsletter that we send to our dial-up, DSL, and cable Internet access members fits into this category.
  8. Infographics: Infographics are a fun and shareable way to get across numbers and statistics related to your business.
  9. Whitepapers: Whitepapers are more typically found on B-to-B websites rather than consumer-focused websites. They are typically longer and perhaps more technical and researched-based than most blog posts, but the two do overlap and you can repurpose one for the other easily. See how EarthLink Business uses whitepapers (and webinars) in its Industry Insights educational series.
  10. Ebooks: Ebooks are the next step beyond blog post or whitepaper, but you can often put together an ebook based on several blog posts or whitepapers; you may need a designer to help you with this one.
  11. Slideshows/presentations: Think “public PowerPoint.” You can use presentations to show your expertise and passion for your subject, to educate or entertain. Slideshare.com is the #1 site for online presentation sharing. Since you may have already created a PowerPoint, you may be able to repurpose it for content marketing with a minimal amount of tweaking.
  12. Games: Creating a branded game that’s related to your business can be effective, though it’s not something you can typically do yourself. And even with a professional game builder helping you, success can be tricky.
  13. Apps: Branded apps that are helpful may be more likely to catch on than game apps and more likely to support your brand; but like games, they do require professional development that may not get much attention if buried below hundreds of other competing apps in the big app stores.
  14. Microsites: Microsites are just websites, but they’re not traditional business websites with product listings and other company info; instead they are websites designed to educate, entertain, or build community around a topic of interest, e.g., Proctor & Gamble’s Home Made Simple microsite.
  15. Custom magazines (print & online): If you’re an AAA member, you’re probably familiar with their monthly magazine about cars and travel. My son is a big fan of the Red Bulletin print magazine (which focuses on extreme sports and edgy culture) from energy drink maker Red Bull. They’ve also made the magazine available as a free iPad app.

We’ll be following up with some more in depth tips on content marketing in the upcoming weeks. Until then, good luck.

And, as always, let us know what you’re experience has been. Any content marketing successes? Failures? We’d love to know what you’ve learned.

Small Business Websites: Discover 7 Essentials for Success

Christopher Columbus sailing to discover the New WorldIt’s Columbus Day today. A day to commemorate and celebrate an explorer. Someone who ventured out into the vast unknown to seek fortune.

I imagine that’s how many small businesses feel when they first sign up for a web hosting service and build their own business website. It’s all such new and unfamiliar territory. They are, so to speak, in uncharted waters, heading for a new world, unsure what to expect.

So, this Columbus Day, we’ll provide a basic checklist of 7 simple but essential things that small businesses who have recently built a website (or are about to build one) should have to make their online expedition a profitable one.

  1. A good website address. So what’s good? Simple. Short. Easy to remember. Easy to type. It should obviously relate to your website and your company. If it’s not your company name (or a close variation), it should ideally contain keywords related to your business that people would be searching for. This will help your SEO (search engine optimization) and help you generate more traffic. For most businesses, it should be a .com site, since most people assume company websites are dotcoms. Here’s an earlier post we did on the best website names for SEO, branding and online success.
  2. About Us. Most people expect that a company website will have an About Us, About, Company, Who We Are, or a similarly named link either in the top navigation or in the bottom footer navigation. Why? Not everyone who gets to your website knows all about you. Some visitors may know nothing and want to find out before they spend any time with you, certainly before they buy anything from you. So make it easy for visitors to find out who you are, where you are, and what you are all about. Be clear and welcoming, so people know where they are and who they are dealing with. Putting this link clearly visible in the top navigation makes it easiest for visitors to find.
  3. Contact Us. This is another website convention that people expect. And when people expect something online, you should give it to them or risk losing disappointed visitors. It’s also in your best interest to help people contact you, because one of the reasons people may want to contact you is to do business with you. Ideally your contact webpage should list some contact options people can choose from: phone, email, chat, a contact form. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to contact you on their terms. But don’t list a form of contact that you aren’t ready to monitor regularly. It’s worse to ignore an attempt to contact you then to never have given the opportunity.
  4. Basic website SEO. As we mentioned above, SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the things you do on your website to help it get indexed and ranked as highly as possible on the search engines. Many things that affect your SEO rankings are beyond your control (at least initially), like having a domain name that has been around for many years that has gained many incoming links from other websites. What you can do is make sure your domain name represents your company well. Make sure each webpage on your site has a unique TITLE tag that uses popular keywords for the content on your page. And make sure your headlines and webpage copy also use the popular keywords that the people you want to find your website are naturally searching for. Also make sure you structure your site in a way that makes sense to both users and search engines. 
  5. Social media to support your site. These days, your website is not an island. It needs to be connected to other forms of online promotion to help it thrive. Facebook and Twitter are the big names. Using your website to drive traffic to Facebook and using Facebook to drive traffic to your website are both important. Whenever and wherever you can generate some buzz about your business online you should. This will enhance your basic SEO efforts, build word-of-mouth marketing, enhance your brand, and generate more traffic for your site.
  6. A blog or other ongoing, fresh content to support your site. It would be nice if you could just take the time to build your website and wait for the traffic and sales to come your way. But one-and-done is not how it works anymore. Your site can’t be entirely static. You need regular content updates. Search engines won’t rank a site well without fresh content. And the less content you have on your website the more you’ll be missing opportunities to rank your site and pull in traffic. That’s why blogs can be so beneficial to small business websites. They give you lots of content to rank for and help position your website (and yourself) as a leader in your field. That’s why our web hosting services come with a free, simple WordPress blog installer, available in the EarthLink Web Hosting Control Panel. Of course, with time and resource constraints, you may not be able to do both social media and a blog well. If not, don’t do both half-way. Pick one and do it really well.
  7. A website that inspires trust and confidence. You know that out there in the real world there are businesses that you drive by or walk up to that you avoid because of the way they look. Online it’s no different. Visitors (especially new ones) don’t give websites much time at all before they make a judgment to stay or go. As in the real world, these snap judgments are often superficial: does this place look legitimate, does it look right for me, does it look safe. That’s why many small businesses turn to professional website design. Because even though EarthLink Web Hosting provides easy-to-use tools to design your own website, small business owners aren’t confident they can make a site that will inspire confidence (and generate sales). And if you have an ecommerce site that’s selling online, you need to make sure you have an SSL security certificate (which is included with our Ecommerce Hosting plans) so your visitors can feel confident about the security of their online transactions. Our Web Hosting customers can add SSL Certificates here.

Common Blogging Mistakes that Can Sink Business Blogs – Part 3

Don't sink your blog by making these promotion & optimization mistakesA couple of weeks ago, we started a three-part series Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog. The first part focused on mistakes setting up your blog. Part two focused on blog writing mistakes.

Today, in Part 3, we’re going to cover promotion and optimization mistakes that can prevent your small business blog from succeeding.

We hope we can help you avoid making these common mistakes and give your blog the best chance for success.

1. Not optimizing blog post Title & Description tags for search engines (SEO)

Your small business blog will be more of a success if customers and potential customers can find your blog posts when they’re searching on the major search engines, such as Google and Bing.

The first step in making that happen is having good content, which we touched on last week. The next step is optimizing the blog page for search engines.

Start with the page’s TITLE tag. This is not the blog’s headline, though they may be similar or identical; rather, it’s the name that appears in the browser tab when on the page and the main link to the page in search engine results.

Best practices for TITLE tags:

  • They need to be unique for each page on your website.
  • They should be under 70 characters long (including spaces); any words beyond 70 characters won’t show up in most search engines.
  • They should lead with the most important keywords for the post, the terms that will be most searched for and have potential to drive the most traffic.
  • In most cases, don’t worry about promoting your brand in blog post TITLE tags; the relevant keywords are most important here.

You should also work to optimize the meta description tag for each post/page. These descriptions no longer have the SEO value they once did, but they often appear in search results and can either positively or negatively affect whether searchers will click to visit your site.

Most SEO experts think there’s no more reason to include meta keywords, though some still do. Sometimes adding meta keywords is a good reminder to you to make sure the post is written with a focus on certain keywords. If you are having trouble deciding what keywords are most appropriate you may need to edit your post a bit.

If you use WordPress for your blog, adding an SEO plug-in such as All-in-One SEO or WordPress SEO by Yoast will make it simple to add good titles, descriptions, and keywords if you want to keep using them.

2. Not promoting your posts enough

Don’t count on your SEO efforts to promote your blog. SEO is important, but it takes time. And even when you have good content and good on-page SEO, you won’t necessarily rank until you start to generate traffic, buzz, and incoming links.

So…you need to actively promote your posts.

Make sure you have a Twitter account that you work to get customers and other relevant people to follow. Then, when you have a post, make sure you promote it on Twitter. It is OK to promote the one post more than once a day, but don’t blast out the same Tweet over and over. You’ll lose your followers. Try tweeting the same link several different ways with some time between your tweets.

The same principles apply to Facebook and Google+. You want a Facebook page for your business with as many relevant Friends as possible. Then you want to promote your posts there.

Other less popular but still important social media properties to promote on include StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious and LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be an especially good place to promote if you are active in groups related to your business.

Another good way to promote your blog is to do guest posts on other blogs. It’s a good way to help position yourself as an expert in your field and you’ll typically get a link or two back to your blog (which is good for both direct traffic and long-term SEO).

3. Not making posts easy to share

When people share your post, that’s like free marketing. What’s more, word of mouth marketing like that, is more trusted and effective than paid marketing since it’s coming from people who were genuinely interested enough in your post to want to share it with others they know.
So make it easy for your readers to share.

The first step, as we’ve mentioned before, is having good timely content. Having a clear keyword-focused headline for your post also helps in sharing since the headline is often what shows up in social media feeds.

But the next must-have is social media sharing buttons. If you want people to re-tweet your article on Twitter, Like or Share a post on Facebook, or pin a photo on Pinterest, you need to make it easy for them.

If you use WordPress, a simple way to do this is to get a social sharing plugin such as AddThis. Here are other WordPress social sharing plugins.

Inbound marketing leader HubSpot also published a great post called The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Creating Social Media Buttons which can walk you thorough your options for implementing these social sharing buttons one by one.

4. Not optimizing URLs for SEO and sharing

URLs or web addresses are often an overlooked opportunity to optimize for search engines and social sharing.

Make sure that URLs for your posts aren’t mostly numbers or codes that are meaningless to search engines and customers. If someone sees the web address of one of your posts, they should be able to figure out what the post is about from the URL alone.

That means you need keywords in your URLs. Some people favor replicating the entire, word-for-word headline or title tag in the url; others an abbreviated version. Either way, both search engines and people should be able to predict the content of your post from the words in your URL.


For example, our first blog post in this series on blogging mistakes for business blogs had this URL: http://blogs.earthlink.net/blogging-mistakes-that-can-sink-business-blogs. In this case “blogging mistakes” and “business blogs” are the most important keyword phrases, so they are included in the URL with “blogging mistakes” in the most important position at the beginning.

5. Never linking out, never linking back

Blogging isn’t really considered “social” media, as social networks like Facebook and Twitter are, but blogs often succeed because they foster a sense of community.
There is the community of readers (which may be apparent in you blog’s comments) and the wider community of people in your industry or area of interest.

Don’t wall yourself off from the larger community you blog should be a part of. Read related blogs and comment on them. Link to other blogs in your niche. Don’t worry about diluting your SEO or losing out to the competition if you mention them. Blogging can be a win-win rather than zero-sum platform when you link out to other blogs.

For different reasons, don’t forget to link back to your own blog (earlier posts) and your website when appropriate. When linking to sales pages, just make sure they are relevant to the post and don’t make the post seem overly commercial.

Linking back to your site and blog will not only generate more traffic for you but also help with conversions and long-term SEO. And remember, you probably have new readers who didn’t know your blog when you wrote the post you are linking back to.

So this is a way to leverage the hard work you did before to provide ongoing benefits to your blog and your newer readers.

6. Not monitoring analytics

To make smart decisions about your website and your blog, you need data. To get that data, you need to have website analytics installed.

EarthLink Web Hosting & Ecommerce customers have access to analytics in their Web Hosting Control Center. If you aren’t an EarthLink customer, the most popular choice is Google Analytics, which is free.

But installing analytics is just the first step. You need to regularly monitor the data being generated. Sometimes you’ll notice a sudden drop in numbers that indicate there’s a problem with your site, and you can fix the issue before it has a great impact.

Mostly, however, you are monitoring blog analytics to see what content is most popular. Don’t just guess what people like. Make sure the numbers back up your intuition. You’ll also want to monitor which kinds of posts drive the most traffic to your main site and, best of all, which lead to conversions.

Best of luck to all you bloggers. From our blog…to yours.

And if you’ve made (and corrected) any of these mistakes, let us know how it’s working out  by posting a comment below. Thanks!

Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog – Part 2

Don't sink your blog by making these writing mistakesLast week, we started a three-part series Common Blogging Mistakes That Can Sink a Small Business Blog. Part one focused on mistakes in setting up your blog.

Today, in Part 2, we’re going to cover writing mistakes that often hinder the success of small business blogs.

We hope we can help you avoid making these common writing mistakes and give your blog the best chance for success.

Blog Writing Mistakes

1.     Writing is too promotional

Yes, you are writing your blog, ultimately, to promote yourself or your business.

But your blog won’t succeed in that mission if you don’t build and maintain an audience of readers. And you won’t do that by writing an endless stream of promotional material.

When writing your blog, you need to educate. You need to entertain. You need to help. You need to inspire.

You don’t need to sell, sell, sell.

The magic of your blog is that if you do all those things well, you will also sell. Because people will like you and respect you and want to do business with you.

 2.     Not focusing your writing on your audience

This second mistake often happens because you’re making the #1 writing mistake: being too promotional.

You can, of course, weave your products or service into your posts when relevant. But focusing largely or exclusively on yourself and your products is a turn-off to blog readers.

Focus, instead, on your audience (your readers and your customers) and good things will happen for you.

Write about the topics you know they are most interested in (and if you don’t know what they are interested in, ask them).

Write to help them solve problems. Write to answer their questions. Write to save them money.

Make your customers’ lives easier somehow and they’ll make it easier for you to succeed online.

 3.     Writing blog posts that are hard to scan

The first two writing mistakes were about content, or what you should write about. This one is about the structure, or how you should write.

You may have heard…people are busy. They are rushed and distracted, their attention is divided and hard to focus.

So you have to make it easy on them.

Especially on the Web, big blocks of copy scare people off. Readers online like to scan through copy quickly and your writing needs to facilitate that.

Yes, you will need to write some long posts to tackle tricky subjects or to establish yourself as an authority. And being too brief can lead people to think you aren’t an expert.

But be as concise as possible while achieving your goal of establishing authority.

Also, break up long posts into sections with headers to help readers visually navigate your post.

Keep paragraphs short. No more than a sentence or two.

Take advantage of bulleted lists or numbered steps. They are very easy to scan and are a more visually appealing way to present your copy.

4.     Headlines aren’t clear enough

Headlines are vitally important to your blog.

First, many people will only read the headlines. It is your job to make sure that your headline gets as many as possible to move on and read the blog post itself.

But many won’t start reading and will abandon your blog if you don’t make it clear what you are offering them for their time.

Headlines that are trying to be clever or mysterious are often simply dismissed by readers. Most don’t have the time or patience to give you the benefit of the doubt and start reading a post when they don’t know what it’s about.

Clarity in your headlines is also especially important for social sharing and SEO.

When people share your post, it’s typically the headline that others will see. And when your post appears in search engine results, it’s the headline that will be the link searchers see first.

Your headline also works to tell search engines what your blog post is about and therefore what keywords the post should rank for.

So a focused and clear headline that features relevant keywords will help your SEO efforts.

 5.     Too many mistakes: grammar, punctuation, spelling & facts

Don’t let this one intimidate you if you’re one of the many non-writers who are writing blogs for their businesses.

Mistakes happen…and you will make them. Just work to minimize them.

While online readers are pretty forgiving about certain kinds of grammar mistakes (especially if they seem to be part of the writer’s voice and contribute to the energy of the writing), a post that is riddled with mistakes will turn readers away and damage your brand.

How to you minimize writing mistakes?

First, know your weaknesses. You probably know certain words you spell wrong all the time. Keep a list and double-check those words in your posts.

Use spell-checkers, but don’t trust them 100%. They are good at spotting certain kinds of spelling errors, but if you misspell one word and your misspelling is another word, it may not be flagged. They’re also not as good if you’re writing about a field with many technical terms or jargon.

Read your posts out loud, slowly, to make sure they sound right. Keep a grammar guide handy to check any issues you aren’t sure of.

If possible, get someone else to read and/or proof your posts. It’s typically harder to catch your own mistakes than to spot them in someone else’s writing.

Also, be very careful to fact-check your posts.

You certainly don’t want to damage your credibility, tarnish your brand, and loose readers and customers by posting inaccurate information.

 6.     Not writing substantial enough posts encourage links & shares

You will have many goals for your blog, but many of them will be harder to achieve if you don’t write posts of substance.

You won’t succeed if all you’re posting are brief “me too” responses to other bloggers, one-sentence intros that link to content on other sites, or posts that are too shallow to really add value to the subject you’re writing about.

While you want to be as concise as possible, make sure you take the time to write thoughtfully and show that you know what you’re talking about.

Substantial content will not only help your brand, but it will also help you generate links to your site (which will then help your SEO) and encourage readers to share your blog post via social media or other referral methods.

People want to be confident that if they share your post, the people they share it with will be impressed with your content.

If you hit the right topic or right tone, a short post can definitely generate links and sharing, but you’ll be safer if you mix in longer, more authoritative posts as well.

 7.     Not writing frequently enough

It’s hard to build up your readership if you don’t write enough.

Quality is, of course, very important, but if there’s not enough quantity to keep people coming back, they won’t.

More frequent blogging will generally mean more traffic to your site.

But there is no magic number for how often you should post to your blog.

The right amount will depend on the type of posts you are writing, the length of the posts (mostly short posts should mean more frequent posts), your audience, and your business goals.

Whatever the frequency is, it’s good to try to be consistent. If you are trying to post once per day, having lots of multi-day gaps can be problematic for building up readership.

People want to know what to expect. You should get them into the habit of checking for posts at certain intervals. Habits are your friend, so you need to post frequently enough that you can get people in the habit of reading your blog.

Blogging frequently also helps the many people who will randomly check out your blog, because it means they’ll be seeing fresh and timely content.

It even helps SEO. Search engines like sites with fresh content. And frequent posts mean you’ll generate more content for search engines to index.

So post, post, post. Every day if you can. Every few days, or weekly, if that’s all you can do. Some business blogs do post monthly, but it’s rare.

It may be hard to achieve your blog’s goals if you can’t post at least once a week. But do your best!

We hope you’ll come back for part three, which will cover promotion and optimization mistakes.