You’re Paying for Content. Now What?

We’ve heard it a million times: content is Elvis.

(What’s that? Content is king? Right, but Elvis was The King, so by the transitive property… No? Okay, fine.)

We’ve heard it a million times: content is king. But if you’re paying for content and it’s not resulting in the kind of ROI you hoped for, it’s time to recalibrate to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Here, I’ll lay out six steps to take after your content marketing agency delivers the goods. 

(Quick note: I’m assuming that the content you receive is good. If your agency delivers content that’s not up to par, take a quick detour here before moving on.)

1: Plan

Okay, technically this should come before your agency delivers any goods. This step is crucial for any content effort, and especially so if you’re trying to create great content on a tight budget. During this stage, answer the following questions:

  • What do our customers want or need?
  • How can we give that to them with the resources we have available?

My guess is that your answers were not “An eBook about our newest feature!” and “By publishing an eBook about our newest feature!”

Too often, though, we in content act like that’s the case.

For best results during the planning phase, answer the first question literally and honestly. Then solve for content by answering the next question creatively. If, for example, your customers need a way to plan their weekends better so they can optimize their limited free time, maybe you need to create customer testimonial videos to promote on Instagram about your amazing nightlife app.

Getting these questions right becomes really important in step three.

2: Publish

Even if your content solves every one of your customers’ problems, it won’t make an ounce of difference to their lives or your bottom line if it never sees the light of day. Publishing content may sound simple, but I get it: things can go wrong. Here are tips on troubleshooting common issues: 

  • The content feels off. Maybe the voice is wrong. Maybe it focuses on the wrong part of the issue. Maybe you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong. If you’re not ready to publish because of the content itself, it’s time to set up a meeting with your content provider. The sooner you do this, the better. Content that feels off is usually a symptom of inadequate communication between you and your content agency – they didn’t get the message you were trying to send. The fastest way to fix it is to provide honest feedback. It’s normal for content to take a few iterations as an agency learns your voice and key messages, but if you find yourself giving the same feedback over and over, maybe you aren’t a fit for each other.
  • You can’t get it approved. If the busiest person in your business has to approve every blog post and tweet, you probably won’t get many published – which means you’ll miss out on all the traffic and conversion potential they could have provided. The ideal solution here is to eliminate the bottleneck from the approval process. Consider doing this by either winning their trust with a few spot-on pieces (and then requesting permission to publish without approval) or shifting your strategy to a relevant topic that’s less nuanced and so requires less oversight.
  • You don’t have a CMS. If you want content to drive revenue, you’ll need a content management system. Otherwise, you’ll be dependent on the IT team to publish anything you create, and chances are a brand-new and unproven content program won’t take precedence over anything else in their queue. (Note: we use (and like!) HubSpot. If you’re curious about whether it might work for you, let me know – I’d be happy to talk it over!)

3: Promote

Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina famously said that it’s not the best content that wins; it’s the best-promoted content.

The philosophy here is simple: if you’ve created something that’s really useful to your target audience (see step one), you should be doing everything you can to make sure they see it. You’re doing them a favor by helping them find this content.

In most cases, promotion should start long before you actually publish your content. If, for example, you’re publishing original data that will help your customers make better decisions when shopping for running shoes, you’ll want to reach out to a few reporters before the story goes live.

Which reporters? Someone who covers retail might care, as might someone at Runner’s World or similar publications. Local media may be interested.

More mainstream outlets might even hear you out if you publish at the start of racing season or around a major running event (like the Boston Marathon).

(For more on targeting relevant reporters, see our DIY Guide to PR.)

For best results, start promotional efforts early and keep them up after you’ve published. Consider promoting your content in the following ways:

  • Pitching it to reporters as news, part of a trend, evidence of thought leadership, or as a follow-on to current events.
  • Sharing it on social media, via paid and unpaid posts. (Here’s our guide to promoting content on LinkedIn.)
  • Promoting it on your website via pop-ups.
  • Personally emailing anyone you think might be interested (potential customers, influencers, sources mentioned in the piece, etc.).
  • Including it in your regular newsletters.
  • Building links to it.

4: Measure

The way you measure your content will depend on what you want it to achieve: inbound traffic, inbound links, newsletter signups, follows, link clicks – the possibilities are (nearly) endless.

If you have an established content program, it’s best to include performance goals during the planning process. Then, when you measure, you can see how close you got to achieving them. But if you have a newer content program, setting goals would be arbitrary. So start by seeing how you’re doing, then set goals based on that.

5: Optimize

Once you’ve got a baseline measurement, it’s time to see if you can improve. If you’re new to optimizing or not sure where to start, consider testing the following:

  • Headlines
  • On-page SEO
  • Calls to action: language, style, location, animation, etc.
  • Images: type, placement, size, etc.
  • Length
  • Language in posts promoting the content

You can test anything you can measure, so it may be easy to get carried away. Aim to learn what performs best in various circumstances, for various types of audiences. Then apply these findings to the next piece of content you create.

6: Repurpose

A blog post could become a conference presentation. An infographic could fuel a video. Your most popular pages could be a downloadable guide – or one that salespeople send prospects. You could tell a reporter which of your blog posts is most popular, which might convince them to write an article on the topic… featuring you!

All of it could be fodder for your newsletter.

Figuring out ways to repurpose content is an excellent way to stretch the capabilities of a small team and a tight budget. It’s also a smart way to get useful content in front of different audiences.

The folks scrolling through a Twitter thread may not watch a video on Facebook or read a blog post or be at your next conference – but if you have versions of your content available in all four of these formats, more people who can benefit from it are likely to see it.

7: Update

Even “evergreen” content can usually stand an update now and then. Add to that the fact that updating old content can boost your search rankings and inbound traffic, and there’s no good reason not to make this part of your regular content calendar.

When updating, focus on making your content as useful as possible to people who see it. This might mean, for example…

  • Replacing broken links with working links.
  • Updating stats to reflect current numbers.
  • Adding new resources or information.
  • Freshening outdated cultural references (or removing ones likely to date your piece moving forward).
  • Clarifying any points that yielded questions from site visitors or customers.

Note: for maximum performance, updated content should have the same URL as the original, with a new publish date or a note about its updates.

Use the Whole Content Buffalo

Whether you’re launching a brand-new content program or you’ve been publishing for years, it’s always a good time to make your content work harder for you. Or, as the Content of Rock and Roll famously said, “It’s now or never.”

(Did I get it right that time? Still no? Shoot.)