If you’re a business online, no matter your standing or status in your industry, you need content marketing.
Not only is it today’s modern marketing – but it’s also the way to boost your brand presence, build trust with your niche audience, and nurture visitors so they leap over each other to become your next leads and sales.
Of course, you probably already understand content marketing’s worth.
Your real problem?
You need help executing content for your brand.
No matter if you’re building an agency, a freelancer offering content marketing services, or an entrepreneur looking for help from top-rated content marketing companies, today’s blog will shed some light on this subject for you.
What do you need to know, first? What experts should you hire? How should you compare and contrast various full-service content marketing companies? What skills and services should they offer to help you grow your business?
Let’s find out. Consider this your all-in-one guide.
What to Look for in Content Marketing Companies: 13 Key Fundamentals and Skillsets Essential for Successful Outcomes
Every single successful content marketing firm needs to have each of these core skillsets and fundamentals on lock to provide results and ROI for their clients.
If the company you’re looking at doesn’t mention one of these essential pieces of content strategy (or worse, if they fail to mention the underlying strategy at all), move on. Your money will be better spent elsewhere.
(Tip: All 13 of these skillsets are taught in my online, 6-week content strategy course!)
1. Marketing Built on a Strategy + Great Content
First things, first. Every content marketing company should put a premium on great content.
If they won’t be producing great content for your brand, they’re not worth your time.
- Is guided by an overarching content strategy
- Is written for YOUR unique audience
- Is well-researched and backed by credible facts, statistics, reports, or studies
- Provides obvious value to your readers (information, entertainment, guidance, etc.)
- Is formatted for ease of reading online
- Is search engine-optimized
- Uses your brand voice and style, not to mention great writing
- Fun fact: Andy Welfle, UX Content Strategist at Adobe, says an English degree will come in handy for the much-needed skill of “good writing” that plays into the deliverables of content marketing companies. Good writing = great content = a big boost to any business’ bottom line.
Of course, the content strategy guides all of this. Every expert, full-service content marketing company should start there, helping you build up a unique content plan that focuses on:
- Your topic area and expertise
- Your goals for your content marketing (what results are you expecting?)
- Your content differentiation factor (what will set your content apart from your competitors’?)
Can the companies you’re looking at handle all of this? To get a good idea, check their staff pages and see which roles they have included on their team. At a minimum, look for:
- Expert content writers
- Content strategists
- SEO specialists
- Social media specialists
- Digital marketing/content marketing managers
2. Audience Discovery
Audience discovery, including researching ideal customers and creating brand personas for reference, is a major part of a content strategy.
If you don’t know your audience, there is no possible way to create content that will directly appeal to their needs. None.
With that in mind, any content marketing company worth their salt will offer ways to find your audience, get to know them deeply, and create personas that will guide every aspect of content creation.
3. Brand Content Style Development
Once you have your Content Differentiation Factor nailed and your audience on lock, developing your brand content style is a natural next step.
The right content marketing outfit will listen to how you want your branding to look and feel, including your desired tone of voice and perspective for your content. They should create a brand content style guide, a document that lays out all the particulars.
This isn’t just about style, though. It’s also about consistency across your posts, web pages, articles, and other content. Your style guide makes it clear what is acceptable and what is not. (Ex: How should blog posts be formatted? Are GIFs acceptable? Will you use title case or sentence case for headings?)
This is a good chart that explains what your brand style guide should contain, via Liz Murphy for Impact:
4. Keyword Basics
Ah, those infamous keywords. They’re the power behind any SEO content plan.
Content marketing depends on keywords to reach fresh, potential leads searching for what you offer online. Thus, every content marketer must know how to properly keyword-optimize content for best results.
Why? Because if your content misuses keywords, you may get docked in Google rather than rewarded. Additionally, your brand will miss out on prime keyword opportunities.
That leads us to our next key skill…
5. Finding SEO Opportunities
A content marketing firm doing their job right will NOT rely on just any keywords for optimizing your content. Instead, they’ll do keyword research to find the most relevant terms for your brand and audience niche.
These SEO keyword opportunities will result in more of the right traffic finding your content, which will add up to more leads and sales.
Keyword research does not, I repeat, DOES NOT look like this:
Screenshot via Backlinko’s keyword research guide
Instead, it looks like this:
Do not hire a company that doesn’t dig in to find the most relevant, profitable keywords for your niche.
6. Mapping Content to the Sales Lifecycle
Once those keyword opportunities present themselves, any smart content marketer or content marketing team will proceed to map those keywords to the sales/marketing lifecycle.
In other words, they’ll plan to create content around those keywords based on the user’s search intent.
Where is the customer in the marketing lifecycle when they search for those keywords? What kind of content will fulfill that search need?
For example, one keyword might map to customers in the awareness phase. In that case, inbound SEO content created around that keyword should help users become aware of your brand and start building trust with them.
7. Creating Understandable Keyword Reports
You need to track the progress of your content marketing campaigns to make sure you’re meeting your goals. That means full-service content marketing companies should report to you with data on a regular basis to show you:
- What keyword opportunities they discovered for your brand, including stats like search volume and keyword difficulty
- Which keywords they plan on targeting or have targeted in content (if they create it for you)
- Suggestions for SEO, like optimized headlines and possible content topics
- What gains or losses have happened in the rankings
This is an example of a keyword/SEO report template from Ahrefs:
8. Building Online Authority
Overall, content marketing should work as a trust-builder for your brand.
That means content creation should begin and end on a solid base – your own domain. Growing the strength of your brand website also builds up its domain authority with Google, which can help you more easily rank new content.
Any good content marketing plan will determine your content focus and home base – the types of content your brand will spend energy producing and where the brunt of it will be published. This is your “content house”!
9. Creating Content and Guest Blogging
The more roads you can create to lead customers to your content house, the better.
Your SEO content serves this purpose (and with consistent publishing, soon, you’ll have hundreds of roads leading back to your brand site). It goes like this:
- Coming up with content topics
- Mapping content topics to your goals
- Writing/designing/producing content
- Editing content to make sure it suits brand style guidelines
- Creating long-form content to build brand authority
- Tying in appropriate calls-to-action to get your audience to move to a new marketing lifecycle stage
- Making sure content is keyword- and search-engine-optimized
Guest blogging is another way to create roads to your content house. By posting high-authority content on trusted, top industry sites, you’ll introduce even more people to your brand and expertise.
If your full-service content marketing firm isn’t looking for ways to build roads back to your content house, they may not be the right fit for you.
10. Promoting Your Content
It doesn’t stop at content creation. Content promotion and distribution are equally important players in the game.
Does your brand have social media accounts on the top platforms? (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn?) Are these accounts consistently updated? Do they maintain your brand voice, provide extra value for your audience, and promote your content?
Email marketing is another content promotion channel that’s essential in content marketing. It gives you a direct line to your subscribers, which isn’t something to sneeze at. (According to the CMI B2B Trends Report for 2019, email marketing is the number one way to nurture your audience. 87% of marketers use it as a primary tool.)
If your all-in-one content marketing solution doesn’t include email and social media, forget about it.
11. Budgeting for Content Marketing
Do you know what great content costs? Your content marketing company needs to be clear with you on how many dollars and cents it takes to create, manage, and maintain a content marketing plan and strategy.
These days, only the highest-quality will lead to measurable ROI. If you’re getting a cheap price, you may want to double-check the level of expertise and care that’s going into your content marketing. If the answer is “low” on both counts, neither will be enough to get you anywhere.
12. Creating Editorial Calendars for Blogging Consistency
Consistency is huge in content marketing. According to research by McKinsey, consistency during the customer journey is THE predictor of an excellent customer experience and loyalty.
The more top-quality content you publish on a regular basis, the better your outlook. The more consistent your brand voice, tone, message, and differentiator, the better the results.
What helps you stay on target, on track, and consistent with your content? An editorial calendar. Does your content marketing service have one for your brand?
An editorial calendar example via Hootsuite
13. Maintaining the Content Strategy
Finally, the last skillset you need for content glory can be termed as “maintenance mode.”
As your content builds, as your presence grows, you need to maintain that momentum:
- Measure and track your results
- Update and repurpose old content
- Continue keyword and topic research
- Promote and distribute old and new pieces
Is your marketing team continually maintaining your strategy and content? Or are they simply “setting and forgetting”?
Is There Another Alternative to Content Marketing Companies?
There is SO much that goes into successful content marketing.
If you’re looking to train your agency staff or go internal instead of outsourcing to a content marketing company, an online training program might be just for you.
My Content Strategy & Marketing Course is THE alternative option when you want to train your growing agency on all of these skills, or find a solution to learning every step of full-service content marketing for yourself.
Investing in seats for those in your office (and you!) will give you cutting-edge, industry-leading training by a teacher who is not just an expert, but has been there, done that! Plus, instruction includes top guest teachers like Sujan Patel, Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo, Michelle Linn of CMI, and more.
You can train yourself or your staff – take the reins and control your own destiny. You just need the right training and skills, and you’re off to the races.
Ready to learn?
Save seats for you or your entire office to get content marketing training that will pay for itself.