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The Basics Every Business Owner Should Know

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The Basics Every Business Owner Should Know


This article is an introduction to marketing for small-business owners, solopreneurs, and beginner marketers. Our goal is to help you understand the key concepts of marketing without unnecessary jargon.

This guide is going to be packed with information. But keep in mind that we’re only scratching the surface here. So feel free to follow the links to other articles that dive further into topics you’re most interested in.

But first, here’s what we’ll talk about:

Here’s how the American Marketing Association (which reviews the definition every three years to keep it timely) defines it:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

If that definition sounds a bit complex, here’s the gist of it. What this definition is trying to tell us is that marketing is not only about promoting something, but it’s also about creating desirable products and services and distributing them in a way that increases their attractiveness.

Why is marketing important?

Businesses transfer (sell) goods or services to customers in exchange for value (money). Sounds easy. But here’s what can go wrong for a business:

  • The customer may not know about the product/service.
  • Even if they know it, they may not have a desire for it.
  • Even if they know and have a desire for it, they may choose to buy from another business.
  • Even if a business manages to go through all the steps to transfer its goods, the customer may not be satisfied enough to come back, buy again, or recommend the business to others.

Marketing is a business practice meant to address all those issues, such as generating awareness through generating desire, fostering customer loyalty, and encouraging advocacy. In other words, because marketing connects the business with its customers, there can be no sales without marketing.

So now we know what marketing is and why it is important. But what does marketing actually do? What are the main roles or key areas of marketing?

For decades, marketers have been answering these questions with the four Ps of marketing:

  • Product – What you sell
  • Price – How much you sell it for
  • Place – Where you sell it
  • Promotion – How you get customers

Let’s dig in.

Product

One of the roles of marketing is co-creating the product. In fact, this is where all marketing starts.

Every product development process needs to take market conditions into consideration. Things like who the customer is, what product features the market demands, who the competitors are, and how to do better than these competitors. We can answer these and similar questions during market research.

Discovering what to build is a critical stage in marketing and in business. That’s because it’s virtually impossible to effectively market a product that doesn’t fit the market. Conversely, a product that can satisfy an existing demand in a promising market doesn’t need complicated or pushy marketing tactics.

So, to give you a taste, here’s how Ahrefs (our product) matches against some fundamental questions that marketing answers in this area:

4 Ps of marketing: product fundamentals. Table with questions on left and corresponding answers on right

Price

A good price is one that your target audience can afford and makes your business profitable. This is easier said than done. But marketing is here to help.

Setting a price point arbitrarily is rarely a good idea. There are various ways marketers can inform executive decisions based on market insights. Here are some basic ones:

  • Run a survey or conduct interviews with your target audience. You can discover what price will make people question the quality of a product and what price will make people deem the product too expensive for their wallets.
  • Make comparisons with your competitors, aka benchmarking. If you set your price close to what your profitable competitors charge, you will likely get a pricing model that works in your market.
  • Adjust for the psychological aspect of pricing, i.e., focus on what your price should communicate to your future customers. Make sure you’re not offering fewer benefits for the same price as your competitors. Or even worse, fewer benefits for a higher price. On a typical value proposition matrix, the best options are the ones highlighted in green:
Value proposition matrix table. Three columns are "higher price," "same price," and "lower price." Rows are "more benefits," "same benefits," and "fewer benefits"

Place

How and where customers will buy a product or service, i.e., place, is another factor that marketing influences (this happens even before we touch on promotion tactics).

Here, market research offers insights into important information, such as the customers’ shopping habits and competitors’ sales channels, to determine the optimal distribution model.

Have you ever wondered why some products are not directly available on the producer’s website? Or why do some types of software come in both digital and physical versions while others do not? That’s no coincidence. That’s marketing.

Here’s a quick rundown of some popular distribution models that marketers can choose from:

4 Ps of marketing: summary of distribution models. Columns are "types of product," "direct distribution," "indirect distribution," and "examples of mixed distribution models" with corresponding information below

Promotion

Only after establishing sound fundamentals in the product, price, and place can marketers then focus on promotion. These are the tactics used to reach the target audience with a message. Think advertising, blog post creation, social media, email marketing, etc.

Marketers are usually associated with activities from this area of marketing—and this “image” is not wrong. Once the strategic components of marketing are in place, marketers spend most of their time working on promoting what their companies have to offer.

When planning promotion tactics, marketers need to know some things:

  • Who are they trying to reach?
  • What marketing channels work best?
  • What is the typical buying journey of their prospects?
  • What budget and staff do they need to achieve their goals?

For example, at Ahrefs, our core marketing tactic is content marketing. We’ve chosen to focus on this type of marketing because:

  • Lots of people are searching on Google for solutions to problems our product solves. So if we create content that ranks high enough, people can find us through Google and learn about our product. (We’ll talk more about product-led content in the last section of this article.)
  • If we can create content that ranks while “drinking our own Champagne,” we can send an authentic message about the quality of our product and the expertise of the people who build it.

In the next paragraphs, we’re going to focus on the promotion part of marketing. But if you want to read more about the four Ps of marketing, check out this guide.

OK, let’s move on.

Marketing is a process. Professional marketers are well aware that visitors don’t become customers immediately—at least not in every type of business. And marketers don’t argue with that fact. Instead, they take that into account and develop a “path” to convince people gradually.

It’s likely no other marketing concept conveys that truth better than the marketing funnel.

A marketing funnel is a system designed to attract customers (or clients) to a business. And then convert them. Gradually.

A typical marketing funnel consists of several stages of converting visitors into leads, then into customers, and then possibly into brand advocates.

Funnel with 6 sections. From top to bottom (Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Action, Loyalty, Advocacy)

Take these two tactics, for example.

A blog post about doing keyword research for SEO is likely to drive visits from search queries related to the topic, such as “seo keyword analysis” or “how to do keyword research.” This means that this content is a good way to generate awareness and interest about our brand and product, as people Googling these terms don’t need to know about us in the first place.

List of keywords with corresponding data

On the other hand, we have a landing page that compares Ahrefs to some of our competitors. Since it will be mostly visited by people who already know our product and are most likely in the market for an SEO tool, this is a proper tactic for the Consideration stage of the funnel.

The other important takeaway from the marketing funnel model is that marketing as a process doesn’t end after someone buys from you. If you want your customers to come back and make repeated purchases, it’s a good idea to keep people engaged after the “purchase” stage.

One of the ways to achieve this is to send out a regular newsletter to your mailing list. Datacamp, a code learning platform, aims to keep its users engaged by sending regular emails. They contain a “weekly goal” reminder and a curated list of resources. Here’s an excerpt from one of those emails:

Excerpt of Datacamp's email

Introduction to the types of marketing

Marketing is a business challenge that has more than one solution. These different solutions are the types of marketing. And these are not secrets in the industry—companies copy and remix them all of the time. The key lies in choosing the optimal combination of these types and using them well. Let’s take a look at some examples.

B2B and B2C marketing

These acronyms stand for business-to-business marketing and business-to-consumer marketing, respectively.

Marketers often differentiate these solutions because some tactics are more effective for marketing to businesses and others for marketing to consumers. Even the messaging style differs.

Here, we have an example of account-based marketing: A company uses emails to promote a new product feature. The emails were carefully targeted, sent only to accounts most likely to benefit from the new feature. Instead of urging prospects to “buy now,” the message is a case study of a solution to a business problem.

Datanyze's email containing link to case study

Below, we have a tactic often used in B2C marketing: influencer marketing. In this example, an influencer with 21.5K Instagram followers quite obviously advertises a food delivery company on her page. It’s a simple yet powerful message: If that company is good for me, it’s probably good for you too. Here’s a handful of discounts so that you can take action immediately.

Influencer's Insta post promoting Foodpanda and discounts

Inbound and outbound marketing

Another pair of basic marketing types that can be used to describe most marketing tactics is inbound and outbound marketing. The first one is about “pulling the customer in” by, for example, providing helpful content to the prospect when they’re ready. The latter is about pushing the offering to the customer with an “interrupting” message, e.g., advertising.

First picture: lady welcoming man. Picture below: lady with megaphone screaming "buy" at man

For example, when we aim to attract new visitors with an article about email outreach, it’s inbound marketing (if people access the article via a search engine).

Someone searching for "email outreach" on Google, then clicking on Ahrefs' article on SERP

But when we launch a PPC marketing campaign with ads featuring the same article, that’s outbound marketing. This is because we’re reaching out to potential customers who may not necessarily be interested in us or ready to learn more.

Ahrefs ad promoting "email outreach" article

Content marketing

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing content to attract and retain customers. By content, I mean blog posts, podcasts, videos, infographics, ebooks, etc.

Promotion through content marketing usually involves satisfying a prospect’s need (e.g., the need to solve a problem at work, the need for entertainment, etc.) while giving exposure to the product or brand.

For example, Trader Joe’s (a grocery store chain) found a way to serve up helpful and entertaining content featuring everyday products that shoppers can find on its shelves. And it’s doing this in more than one way:

Links to three types of content in Trader Joe's catalog

Trader Joe’s regularly generates three types of content in the Fearless Flyer food catalog that’s also distributed in print.

So not only does it go the extra mile and provide product information on neatly designed pages, but it also gives some inspiration on what to do with those products:

Recipe write-up on left. Picture of ingredients on right

While sharing recipes for delicious meals, Trader Joe’s also promotes its products.

Take a look at this picture from one of its blog posts titled “Take a Dip Into the New Year” (pun intended). The main characters here are two ordinary jars of olives. But by showing them in the context of a delicious olive dip (there’s a recipe for it too), the olives now look exceptionally tasty to potential customers.

Olive dip with bread

Through its content marketing, Trader Joe’s is turning dull grocery shopping into a colorful, funny, and appetizing journey that gets better with every product shoppers put into their carts.

Trader Joe’s content is an example of product-led content, which we’ll talk more about later.

Email and social media marketing

Email and social media, although quite different from each other, share a similar idea for marketing: gather an audience and use an owned marketing channel for direct messaging.

For instance, here is the same message distributed in two different ways. One is in a newsletter sent to our email subscribers; the second is a tweet to our Twitter followers.

Excerpt of Ahrefs' newsletter containing short write-up on one of its articles

Do you notice the intersection of different types of marketing here? There’s content marketing (the article about statistics) mixed with email marketing; there’s also content marketing mixed with social media marketing. By “mixing” these, we can reach more people with our articles instead of only publishing them on our blog.

Growth marketing

The last type of marketing I want to talk about is a rather new addition to the “family.” Growth marketing is the process of increasing a company’s revenue by applying an experiment-driven and integrated approach to all stages of attracting customers.

So instead of simply copying what’s working for other marketers or focusing on one marketing channel, growth marketers devise hypotheses and then verify them through data from marketing experiments. Therefore, growth marketing needs to be open to any type of marketing and all marketing channels—as long as they work and there is data to prove this.

What’s also distinctive here is that growth marketing, unlike some more traditional theories of marketing, doesn’t just attract people to a business. It aims to take care of the entire marketing funnel. So, at one point, a growth marketer may be optimizing ads on LinkedIn. At another, they may be turning customer feedback into product feature ideas.

Take a look at the example below to see how growth marketing can be different from the types you’ve seen above. This model shows a growth loop that works for Notion, a productivity app: Every new user is a chance to attract (and/or retain) another user without the company needing to incur additional costs or take further actions.

4-step growth loop for Saas: attract new users, activate users, retain users, then users build templates

Three marketing tips from an eight-figure ARR company

Everything we’ve discussed so far may sound like basic marketing theories. But make no mistake here—these things work. Here’s how applying some of the above principles helped Ahrefs become a successful, eight-figure annual recurring revenue (ARR) company.

Tip 1. Marketing relies on the product more than anything else

The effectiveness of marketing depends on many factors, e.g., the budget, how well a business stands out from the competition, and whether the business targets the right audience. But above anything else, marketing relies on its fundament which, if you remember from the four Ps of marketing, is the product.

Here’s why:

  • Marketing can’t effectively promote something that the product doesn’t deliver, i.e., it has to be based on what the product truly offers.
  • Marketing is expected to generate customers. But the message that marketing creates is not the only factor that a potential customer takes into consideration. Marketing can point someone toward a product. But the person’s final decision will most likely depend on the functionality and price of that product.
  • People don’t need to trust marketing anymore to learn about a product. Before buying anything, they can check product reviews or see what other people say on social media. This ties back to the importance of having a good product.

At Ahrefs, we made sure our product fit the market before we hired the first full-time marketer. Back then, the product grew mostly thanks to word of mouth from satisfied customers and impressed reviewers. To this day, word of mouth is one of our top three customer acquisition channels.

Poll on Facebook where people prefer Ahrefs to SEMrush

Just one of many polls where people vote for our product. Source: SEO Signals Lab.

Our product-market fit also allows us to invest in content marketing confidently. This brings us to the next point.

Tip 2. Create product-led content for SEO

To create product-led content means to turn your product into actionable advice for your audience.

Consider the scale below, which we use to rank topic ideas. Product-led content is basically content that gets at least a “1” on that scale:

Table with scores 3 to 0. And explanation of criteria to meet each score.

In general, there’s nothing wrong with non-product content, as it can offer a vast pool of topic ideas with considerable traffic potential. But we prefer sticking to content where we can feature our product because:

  • We can naturally showcase our product in each piece of content: how it looks, how it works, and what it can be used for. And we can do all that in a context that is familiar to the reader.
  • This style of content can serve more purposes when it comes to the marketing funnel. The same article can be an effective way to attract visitors and retain customers.

And finally, to create product-led content for SEO means to develop content with organic search as the main distribution channel in mind. In marketing jargon, the kind of content that is designed to rank in search engines and attract searchers from search engine pages is called SEO content.

This type of content has many benefits. But for the sake of brevity, here are two main ones:

  • SEO content generates almost free, consistent, and passive traffic from search engines.
  • Searchers are likely willing to learn more, as the content answers their search queries.

Let’s illustrate the results of this tactic: Currently, the content on our blog alone generates over 340K organic visits every month. If we wanted to generate the same amount of traffic through paid ads, we would need to spend almost $540K every month.

Tip 3. Experiment, measure, and scale what’s working

As you may have noticed, at Ahrefs, we mainly stick to content marketing. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do other types of marketing. In fact, we experiment whenever there is a chance for us to learn something new or improve something that’s already a commonly used tactic.

Here’s why it matters:

  1. What works for some may not work for others – So not only is it wise to take any marketing advice with a grain of salt, but it’s also important to test things yourself.
  2. It’s hard to get things right in the first run – And you probably shouldn’t try to. An iterative process of reaching your marketing goals is often the best approach.
  3. Trying something out in practice is often a better way to solve problems – This is compared to just having a theoretical discussion among your peers.

But whatever you do, it’s crucial to measure the outcome. Just like the old business adage says: What you can’t measure, you can’t improve. For instance, let’s look at the chart below showing one of our blog posts’ organic traffic. If we hadn’t measured the post’s performance, we couldn’t have improved it. Consequently, we would have missed out on a lot of traffic.

Line graph showing jump in organic traffic after post was updated

The rest of the process is pretty straightforward. If it works, start doing it regularly. And if it works in the long run, do more of it.

It’s a simple rule, but it sometimes gets overlooked. Marketers tend to get distracted from what’s important by the latest fads. They also get too consumed by the everyday chase of nailing those KPIs.

Final thoughts

Let’s quickly sum up what we discussed in this article. First of all, contrary to popular belief, marketing is not only about promoting a product. It’s also about co-creating the product based on market research and user feedback.

Secondly, marketing is typically a process that connects the right audience with the right kind of product, a sort of matchmaking. It doesn’t end at converting a visitor into a customer. Some marketing tactics will allow you to keep your customers, encourage them to come back, and spur them to recommend your business to others.

Finally, there is no silver bullet in marketing. There are different types of marketing that you should probably try out to see what you can do best and what gives you the best outcomes. On that note, we hope our sharings on the three simple yet powerful things that have worked for Ahrefs will inspire you.

So what are the next steps here? If you’re in need of a battle plan that will guide your marketing efforts, that means you’re in need of a marketing strategy. Well, you can learn how to do that in this five-step guide. And if you want to streamline your learning process, try these 17 Free Online Marketing Courses to Learn Digital Marketing.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.





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5 Easy Ways to Building a Solid SEO Content Strategy

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5 Easy Ways to Building a Solid SEO Content Strategy

You are stuck in a maze and you’ve tried every possible turn but there is no way out.

This is what our brains feel like sometimes and if you haven’t tried banging your head against the keyboard out of frustration with your content strategy, you have no business reading this.

Yes, even I have those days when getting the mix of SEO and the client’s technical writing desires in your content strategy seems like an unsolvable puzzle.

So here are 5 things to keep close when planning your content strategy so you don’t ever have to damage your keyboard again. You will rank and you will also provide the best possible content to your client and your readers – win, win and win.

The Importance of a Strong SEO Content Strategy

Before anything else, it’s important to acknowledge that quality content is one of the defining components of an SEO strategy. Great content paired with SEO efforts has always been the backbone of any successful campaign. Regardless of other standard SEO practices- if your content isn’t good enough for Google, then your website isn’t good enough to rank.

Ways of Setting Up An Effective SEO Content Strategy

Do Keyword Research Above All Else

Keyword research is like the egg to your omelet- all your ingredients won’t come together without it. Never start building your SEO content strategy without gathering your keywords first. Your keywords will be the foundation of any type of content that you’ll be publishing to your web pages. It’s important to keep in mind these guidelines when doing your keyword research:

  • Use keywords that acknowledge your target audience
  • Ensure keyword relevancy to your website
  • Understand the search intent of each keyword in the list
  • Only consider keywords that have good monthly search volume

Learn more about the latest keyword research practices!

Identify Website SEO Content Opportunities

It’s a fairly general SEO practice to commit all your content publications as blogs for your website. While this particular SEO content strategy proves to still be very effective in attracting website traffic- wouldn’t it be ideal if you could attract THAT traffic straight to pages that have higher possibilities to convert?

Imagine an e-commerce site with a web page that purely displays product listings as its content.

Product Category Page

By including a frequently asked questions (FAQ) type of information, we allow that page to target SEO-friendly keywords increasing the chances for it to have a strong online presence.

Landing Page Content Efforts

This is an example of an “SEO content opportunity” on your website. Instead of simply publishing blog articles, you can direct your writing efforts to pages where there’s an opportunity to target a keyword.

You can mainly identify these SEO content opportunities by analyzing search results and identifying what type of pages are ranking. For example- when searching for the term electric scooter, the search result returns product listings. Therefore, there’s a higher chance of ranking a page that mainly displays products. Which makes it a good target for additional content.

Search Results Sample

Keep Your Content Human

Build your content for users.

The rising popularity of AI-written content allowed web pages to rank high within search results. This led to unnaturally written articles being presented to users. As a result, Google continues to release algorithm updates that punish these pages’ rankings.

It is very important to note in your SEO content strategy how the articles should be written. Always bear in mind to present information in a way that’s digestible and easily understood by readers. Not only will this help keep Google’s eyes away from you, but it will also increase user retention.

Acknowledge Your Competitor’s Content Strategy

In any card game, there’s a benefit to knowing what hand are your opponents playing. The same concept applies when building your SEO Content Strategy. Your competitors have done the work, so why not learn from them?

Noting your competition’s implementation of content in web pages, topics they publish in their blogs, and how they’re structuring their content can give you an idea of how can you improve your own content strategy.

The tool that I mainly use to gauge my competition is SE Ranking’s competitive research tool.

SE Ranking Competitor Research Tool

This allows me to see what organic keywords are they using on their website, in addition to manually browsing through their content.

Optimize As Much As Needed

Let’s assume that you’ve already started publishing your content- the only way to maintain and improve its quality is to perform regular on-page SEO optimizations. Not only can it serve as the solution to ranking changes, but it also allows you to be flexible in the content you have on your website.

Here are some of the things that you should consider when performing on-page SEO optimizations:

  • Maintain the quality of the SEO factors being implemented in your pages by ensuring proper keyword usage in SEO factors such as title tags, meta descriptions, headings, and the like.
    HTML Meta Tags
  • Look for opportunities to improve/update existing content- such as enhancing keyword usage and content comprehension.
  • Point out and correct any existing UI/UX issues to improve the visitor experience
  • Ensure proper indexing practices such as appropriate robots and sitemap implementations that guarantee website visibility.

Key Takeaway

There are honestly a lot of ways that you can approach your website’s content. But instead of overloading yourself with information, learning these 5 ways of building a solid SEO content strategy can allow you to focus on the basics. Only then can you start applying other SEO practices that can help you formulate a successful SEO campaign.

If you want to learn more about content marketing, check out our guide on how to write your content!

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