I spent around 12 months working on quite an intensive content marketing campaign for a company supplying products in the construction industry in the UK and I thought it would be valuable to discuss some of the things I learned during the process.
The first thing to say is the construction industry is probably not the kind of industry you’d expect to carry out a content marketing campaign in. Many of the operators in the construction industry are relatively conservative and due to the physical nature of the jobs, often have been slow to become online businesses. This is especially true at the SME end of the market.
So why carry out a content marketing campaign? The company in question had resource but a relatively little budget for marketing. It wanted to develop its online offering to create an additional pillar of revenue within the business which still relied on an offline model. Content marketing became the preferred marketing approach because it would enable the website to mature sustainably from an SEO perspective, facilitate a story telling approach in which visitors would understand the company and generally get the brand out to countless more people that it would have done previously.
The company’s website was doing very little online when the campaign commenced, so it was almost like starting from a standing start and although there was a certain amount of brand equity offline this didn’t translate to online activity, with a very limited number of brand searches being carried out.
As such, although this is a case study about content marketing in construction, I’m confident it will provide valuable insights for anyone wishing to start such a content marketing campaign.
Content marketing can encompass a lot of different types of content, so it’s probably a good idea to scope out what I’m talking about here. The content produced was mainly onsite content added to the company’s blog section which could then be promoted on other networks. The different types of content included topical content (mainly using news jacking), company news, legislative changes, infographics as well the more SEO orientated blogs posts which seek the answer the type of questions a member of the audience would query in a search engine.
Over the course of around 12 months, I created and promoted over 600 pieces of content. Each piece of content was promoted on around 15 networks with many of these pieces of content also being sent out to the company’s existing customer e-mail database through trade-targeted emails.
With tens of thousands of products and 17 different trades to target, one of the initial decisions I made was to focus on the ranges of products that applied to all the audience segments, creating a universal/generic persona, known as Paul (which was the first name occurring the most in the company’s customer-base).
Trades were targeted through a product led email marketing campaign where the schedule rotated through the trades over the course of around 2 months and where a generic email was sent out to all trades each week.
I weighted the content production towards a news jacking approach. The first thing I learned about news jacking is it pays to get up early. By getting up earlier in the morning and finding the content you’re going to base your work on you have a chance of getting it out there on various networks before anyone else has a chance. The key to news jacking is finding a relevant news item, injecting your company’s message and opinion and then getting it promoted, fast. When news jacking works it can deliver thousands of visitors to your site if your piece is then picked up by journalist your company line and the opinion you’ve added become part of the news about the story. This is the perfect news storm.
When thinking about the types of content you can create you need to think about how you can distribute and promote the content. In this situation, there wasn’t a lot of money for promotion, which meant the content I created was geared towards news content as this was something we could promote on news networks such as Reddit, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc. Think about the audience you’ve already got on those networks and the ones you can tap into, what will work in one place won’t work in the next.
In order to determine how successful the campaign was I focussed on a number of KPIs which included the overall traffic, click through rates on emails, brand searches, organic traffic, organic traffic to the blog compared to referral traffic to the blog pages, organic traffic to the product pages, the number of keywords ranking and of course sales.
The key thing for me was ensuring the traffic was relevant to the site and to get a good feel for this I first developed an overall persona. This persona guided the content creation process, for example, we knew that despite being a North West based business we knew a lot of our customers, and certainly, the high spending customers were based in the South East. By slating certain content towards the South East and sourcing news content I could newsjack from the South East I was able to deliver tens of thousands of visitors to the site per blog due to the interest in the built environment in that region.
From then it was a case of working out what the story was and how that could be consistently implemented in the content marketing campaign so we could feed relevant keywords into the pieces and deep link them back to pages throughout the site to create relevancy whilst developing our visitors’ perceptions of the brand.
As noted above brand search was a key KPI as this demonstrated if the brand was gaining ground and over the course of the year, brand traffic dramatically increased demonstrating to us that there had been a positive impact.
One of the main KPIs was non-blog and non-brand orientated organic traffic. This is the organic traffic that Google delivered to product pages of the website, this rose fairly steadily throughout the 12 month period at a rate of around 18%. What’s more this traffic converted at around 1%.
It’s worth noting that the website already had tens of thousands of products listed on it, and although we added some additional products to the site it wasn’t felt necessary to increase the range of products so the organic growth was being driven by the impact of the content marketing rather than other types of activity or content being added to the site.
As we didn’t have a budget for offsite work, very few links were added to other brands websites and only a very limited amount of PR was leveraged in local and very niche trade press, usually without a link pointing back to the website.
From an SEO perspective, one of the most important factors was the number of links we got back to the site off the back of the content. These links would be organic links and as such would be pure gold. I, therefore, kept a close watch on the number of links. I can honestly say it was disappointing for the amount of content we had to produce and the number of visitors the content dragged in to find a small number of websites referring back to the site. A lot of them came in from Wikipedia where our content had been used as reference points and others came in from sites that had picked up our RSS feeds (which therefore didn’t last long) and most of the rest came in from the promotional activities I was carrying out in getting the content out there.
Although the number of links was disappointing I was really pleased with the rate of growth and I witnessed a number of periods where the growth raced ahead or stepped up before getting back on trend.
Of all the links that came back through to the website, I’d say around 15 were the type I was really looking for, good in content links included by a blogger who regularly writes about the construction industry.
From a brand perspective, this hugely increased the visibility of the company both to the potential customers but also to journalists and to the trade more generally. Key influencers actively sought us out on social media and I personally was ranked around the top 50 most influential people in the construction industry in the UK by Construction Week.
The key question to ask is how much it affected sales and the answer is a mixed one. We were starting from a low base so we had a lot of distance to cover. The campaign grew the sales of products from the website slowly, consistently but perhaps, more importantly, they grew reliably and each month the number of sales almost exactly matched my projections for 18% organic growth.
Although we’d been clever in terms of segmentation and distribution of products and content via email marketing, this needs to be taken to the next level with personalisation of email content and personalisation of web content and almost certainly the next stage would be to implement triggers to really get that content working hard for the company.
Unfortunately, content marketing is a long term exercise. It’s probably the most sustainable way of marketing available at the moment, in that you’re building up an inbound marketing knowledge base that can be referred back to time and time again, however, it’s just so slow. 18% organic growth month on month may seem like a lot, however for an impatient entrepreneur who is used to going out into the world each day and making a huge difference content marketing is probably alien to every fibre of their being.
I also found it interesting how the tipping point works, I’ve seen this countless times over the years, you create a huge amount of content online and you still see the same levels of growth week in week out, then suddenly you have a huge surge in daily traffic which then returns to the same levels of growth (just with significantly increased visitor numbers). This is a bit of experience and tacit understanding of how the system works, but try telling someone to wait because the benefits will come, it might take a few weeks, months or a maybe a year or two – that’s a hard sell!
Clearly, though, it does work. Perhaps my most important take home from the 12 months I spent carrying out a construction content marketing campaign is that marketing should never focus on just one strategy, you should always have multiple strings to your bow. To do this you need to be prepared to seriously invest in making things happen. Marketing costs and that means the business has to be in a strong position to start with. If it’s not, get your house in order before you start aggressively marketing and definitely before you commit to a content marketing strategy which will take a serious amount of time and investment.
So how did it end? It didn’t end well. After 12 months of carrying out the content marketing campaign, despite the levels of growth we’d achieved and were forecast to achieve, the business could no longer justify the campaign. We’d stuck all of our eggs in one basket because there was no marketing budget other than the resource in the team and with other areas of the business performing particularly badly, it was understandably deemed important to focus on the bits of the company that were already sustainable, rather than the parts of the company that had potential for growth, but which required additional investment to make it happen.