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How to Make Sure Your Content Marketing Does the Job

Earlier today Darren talked about content marketing as a traffic generation strategy, and he mentioned the content marketing we did for the launch of Blog Wise.

The table he showed in that post, which breaks down the different sites we guest posted at, and the key messages we presented, points to an important fact about content marketing: planning really counts.

Where you’re used to writing for your own blog and readership, when it comes to writing for someone else’s (as in guest posting), planning is critical if you’re to make the most of that opportunity.

But even if you’re simply trying to use an email series or whitepaper to convert more of your site’s current, lurking readers into subscribers, you’ll want to plan the content to meet your needs, and those of the audience you’re targeting with it.

So I wanted to follow up Darren’s post with an explanation of how you can create a content outline that does both those things.

What is an outline?

An outline is not a headline. It’s not a rough explanation of what your post will cover (although this is what I’m usually sent as pitches for guest posts at ProBlogger).

An outline is a clear roadmap for the content that shows how that content will meet the needs of your blog business, and those of the target readers or users of that content.

Why write an outline? Because once you have that, you won’t have to worry about these strategic issues when it comes to creating the content. Instead of writing, freeform, until you’re done and then hoping that the content does what you want it to, this process lets you sit down and think strategically about what you’re doing, then sit down again, separately and in a different headspace, to write productively to meet that strategy.

Also, if you’re offering the content through some offsite location—say, as a guest post on someone else’s blog—once you have a good outline, it’ll be easy to chip off the relevant bits to send to the host blogger so that they can see that your content will meet the needs of their readers.

Creating your outline

Ready? Let’s get to it. First, we’re thinking strategically. So stop thinking like a writer, and start thinking like a marketer.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to look at the guest post I wrote for Goinswriter to promote Blog Wise, and show you how that developed.

Look at your needs

What do you need the content you’re using as a marketing tool to do?

With Blog Wise, we wanted our guest posts to:

  • promote the ebook
  • encourage clickthroughs to the sales page.

Pretty basic, right? Right.

Look at your audience’s needs

What does your audience need the content to do?

To answer this, you need to get to know your audience. In our case, that was pretty easy—we could look at Jeff’s blog and comments, and his social media interactions on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and get a feel for what his readers felt, needed, and wanted.

If you’re creating content—say a whitepaper—that you’ll distribute through someone else’s site, you’ll need to do similar research. Don’t hesitate to ask the site owner for information on their audience, though, as this can be a great help to you.

What did I feel Jeff’s audience needed the content to do? Here were my thoughts:

  • inspire their passion
  • help them write, whether they were bloggers, fiction writers, copywriters, or whatever
  • provide them with something candid and new.

Meet those needs with a concept

By “concept” I mean an idea that you want to communicate. I wanted to talk about Blog Wise in a way that:

  • inspired Jeff’s readers’ passion: so I decided to use Jeff himself (and the interview he did with us for Blog Wise) as the hook
  • helped them write: so I thought about a technique that helped me as a writer, regardless of what I’m writing
  • provided them with something new: the technique I thought about—having a “writer’s mindset”—wasn’t something I’d heard talked about before. I gave it a catchy name, “constant writing,” to give the article more obvious value, a title hook, and some serious punch.

Using this information, I decided I’d write a guest post that showed readers how to become constant writers. This met my needs and those of my readers—easily checked against the bullet points I made above.

Aspects of “concept” you might want to consider here include:

  • catchwords or phrases
  • content format
  • hooks and angles
  • titles.

Extend that concept into a content plan

Obviously your content plan will depend entirely on your concept and the format you’re using. A guest post outline is not an ebook outline, nor is it an email series outline, a video plan, or an infographic storyboard.

But whatever your format, your outline needs to be based around the key messages that communicates your concept to your audience. So you need to develop it with your target readers in mind.

By now, the needs you’re trying to meet should be ingrained and inherent in your thinking, so you can focus entirely on the readers and creating content that meets their needs.

Write down the key points you want to communicate to them, as sentences, subheadings, questions—whatever feels right. For my guest post, those key points were:

  • Jeff’s philosophy: just get started
  • Problem: how do you “just get started”?
  • Identify technique: pro writers are constant writers
  • What is constant writing? (explain the concept)
  • How does it work? (explain how it works in practice)
  • Conclusion.

That’s a good start, but it’s not really detailed enough for me to write the article yet, particularly in those latter sections. So I built it out.

  1. Intro
    • Explain Jeff’s philosophy: just get started.
    • Mention interview, and expand on what Jeff said.
    • Detail the problem: how do you “just get started”?.
    • Identify technique: pro writers are constant writers.
  2. What is constant writing? (explain the concept)
    • Mention writing “addiction” and the importance of loving expression.
    • Explain what constant writing isn’t: writing, completion, skills, becoming a “serious” writer or taking writing “seriously”.
    • Explain the point of constant writing: playing with words.
  3. How does it work? (explain how it works in practice)
    • Pay attention to your expression (with examples: email, text, etc.).
    • Read (examples: signs, t-shirts, books and magazines).
    • Listen (conversations, announcements, songs).
  4. Conclusion: Show readers how they’ll change if they put this philosophy into practice, to become constant, addicted, writers.

Houston, we have an outline

Yes! We have an outline! As you can see, some of those bullet points from my concept have become section subheads. Where I’ve needed to clarify my own thinking, I’ve expanded on those points.

Now I can objectively sit back, read this outline, and make sure that I honestly feel it will meet Jeff’s readers’ needs, as I listed them at the outset.

Next? The pitch.

Pitching your content

I could have sent Jeff this outline, but I expected he probably didn’t need to see the inner machinations of my mind. Instead, I summed it up in an email…

“I wanted to ask if we’d be able to write a guest post for your blog to help promote your inclusion in the ebook. The post I had in mind would take your “just get started” philosophy of productivity and present one idea for making that happen. The idea is creative practice, rather than creative production. So, rather than sitting down to write an article, this post argues, sit down to play with words and ideas.

“Write without a goal; write to experiment; write to get practice working with words—this would be the thrust of this article, which provides practical tips for getting started, and argues that an experimental approach takes the pressure off, allowing the writer the freedom to sit down and write a five-line lyric if they want, or 500 words of prose. The post would advocate this as a good way not just to build the creative muscle, but also, to give yourself the potential to discover new aspects of your writing which could be useful, or easily translate, into better, more resonant professional writing/blogging.

“I expect this piece would come in at around 1000 words, and it would of course include a link back to the productivity ebook on ProBlogger. Let me know if you’d be interested in this post for your blog, because I’m really keen to write it and see how your audience feels about the idea :) Of course, if you don’t feel it’s appropriate, that’s no problem at all.”

As you can see, this summation is a digestible, sensitive version of the nuts-and-bolts outline. I’m trying to tell Jeff what I’ll communicate and why it’s of benefit to his readers, rather than give him a laundry list of subheadings. That said, sometimes, a laundy list of subheadings is a great thing to send through, especially with posts that seem nebulous or unusual. I guess the most important thing to note here is that I didn’t write to Jeff and say something like this:

“I have an idea for a guest post on your site about writing productivity. The article is “Constant Writing: the productivity secret of pro writers”. Do you think it would be of interest?”

This is no way to either build rapport with the person who’s hosting your marketing effort, or inform them of the value of your piece. The outline I sent Jeff explains specifically:

  • what his readers will get out of the content,
  • through what discussions, and
  • how the content will benefit the host blogger himself.

If your content marketing pitch does this, you’re on a winner. From here, it’s likely you’ll be able to navigate any hurdles the host blogger throws up and, when it comes to write your piece, you’ll basically know on a subconscious level what you’re doing and why—which will show clearly in your writing.

Do you plan your content marketing efforts?

if you think having an outline like this would be handy in giving your guest posts the greatest impact, imagine what it can do for your email subscription series, your free ebook, or your whitepaper.

Outlines make content marketing easier. Do you use them? Will you try? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

About Georgina Laidlaw

Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Nicole says:

    This follows the tried and true writing method taught in high schools and colleges for a 5 paragraph essay… introduction, 3 paragraphs each expounding on one point, and the summary. The intro should say what you are going to say and the summary should say what you said!

    So true about planning for what action you want the reader to take. As marketers our job is not to simply write awesome content that informs, but rather to guide the reader to take the next step. Guest Blog Posts are even more important as you normally get one chance to make a good impression so you want to make sure that the blog post is beneficial to the readers of the blog where it will be placed as well as fulfill your need in bringing some traffic to your site.

    • Nicole, I like that you mentioned that we’ve learned about this outline in school… but I bet a lot of people don’t use this anymore. I still do though. This keeps me on track and on schedule too.

      Giving information is the main objective of a blogger but the marketer will make you go to the next step as you said.

      Thanks for the reminder/tips Georgina.

  2. Phil Newton says:

    It depends on what I’m writing. If it’s something like a review or a info page, then I’ll use a standard outline as it makes it much easier to get started. I’ve never done a guest post, but I imagine I’d use something similar if I did them often.

    For everything else I’ll usually jot down a few ideas, and then flesh out the points as I go, before arranging things to make sure everything makes sense.

  3. brian yang says:

    True that. I think it is very necessary, not only in writing that you outline your plans and topics. This way, it is easy for you to create subtopics and discuss the subject on your blog.

  4. Anshu says:

    I was really inspired by what you did with the content marketing as described by Darren’s post. It is great to read a breakdown of how you went about it. You made it look very methodical and easy to follow. I’m not that thorough but I guess I will practice outlining when writing for a blog that is off my niche.

  5. Linda Adams says:

    Outlining doesn’t work for everyone. I’m one of those people who, if required to include an outline with a school assignment, I would have written it after I finished the assignment, and only to satisfy the requirement. Outliners figure out what they want to say by doing the outline; I have to write the actual piece to figure out what I want to say. I have tried them, and I can’t connect my creativity to them.

    So, no, I don’t outline topics.

  6. That really is a killer outline that leads into each section smoothly!

    I may have absorbed this information backwards, but the implementation of this outline really helps a lot. I also want to get into guest posting in the future and it’s great to have a better idea of how to approach other blogs for this purpose.

    Thanks a bunch!
    -Gabe

  7. Hi Georgina,

    Set up an outline. Create order. Outlines flesh out the framework of your post, a step by step framework you work off of. Create one and stick to it. Ideas flow to you with greater ease if you use outlines.

    Thanks Georgina!

    Ryan

  8. smyth jorden says:

    The benefits of content marketing are varied. A strategy of investing in content is equally effective whether it is employed by a huge multinational company selling software, or a home-based jewelry designer with a website. It works for B2C or B2B. While traditional marketing methods offer a diminishing yield of customers, the right content strategy can build interest and increase sales as you scale your business to meet demand.

  9. suiji says:

    Outlining your content is a good strategy to use when writing a blog article. This will help in guiding you especially in the arranging of your thoughts. Nice post!

  10. Ayaz says:

    Hi Georgina!

    Great post and creating an outline and plan how and what content you are going to create and wrote them out on an note pad or on any paper than start writing and finding the content will certainly help you to produce quality content that covers your marketing aspects as well as get you more leads.

  11. Christelle says:

    Writing outlines always help me when writing. I find it is easier to jolt down ideas in a few lines, it’s not as scary as writing an article itself, and because I know I am going to write down outlines and it won’t take me hours, it’s easier to dig into it, I don’t get “writer’s blog”.

    I like the whole approach you describe here, from the basic outline to filling it more with details before starting to write anything lengthy.
    I think this whole process of planning the content and pitch it properly can be used for many purposes, like pitching a project to your boss.

    Great work!

  12. Ken says:

    I’m an aspiring blogger, I guess what we learn from English writing 101 in school does now play a role in content marketing. Because from my experience it does help when you sound professional in your writing and the way you structure outlines for your articles does affect your content marketing outcomes.

  13. Lorii Abela says:

    Even though outlining doesn’t work with everyone, I believe it would still be a great help if someone is blogging.

    Thanks for sharing an awesome post.

  14. James says:

    I try to outline pretty much every project I work on. Whether I want to send a convincing letter or am planning out the work week on Monday morning, outlines provide a great framework and plan that can help the development and presentation of your work. Great advice.

    Best,

    James
    http://www.fundinggates.com

  15. I really love this framework for writing blog posts. On the one hand, sometimes a great idea for a post can seemingly come “from the ether,” but I usually find that when I write my outline first, the writing comes faster, and I have to do less editing.

    When I write, I like to perform what I call a “rhetorical analysis” of my audience every time, and add that to the top of my outline. It includes their background, what they want, what they need, what they love and hate, and what they came to the site for. Then I write the action I want them to take. I’m going to borrow your idea about certain keywords and hooks to include in the outline. I hadn’t thought to include those in the outline :-)

    Thanks for sharing this.

  16. Stanley Rao says:

    Awesome post and has been of great help for me… this can be helpful for the ones who are beginning their careers in blogging as well as in terms of content marketing