This article explains the skills that content marketers should learn and hone to develop a successful career in the industry
Inbound marketing is fast-paced; rapidly shifting trends and technological capabilities are part of the reason it is such an appealing career. But there is more to content marketing than writing articles, creating memes and scripting videos. To become an invaluable asset to the marketing team, content marketers need to be strategic, analytical and resilient.
Skills for content marketers
Here are seven essential skills for content marketers to achieve success and personal growth:
1. Get to grips with basic SEO
This may sound like a no-brainer, but with many content marketers joining the digital industry from publishing, communications or copywriting backgrounds not everyone has a foundational understanding of SEO. You don’t need to become a technical SEO whizz, but a basic working knowledge of link-building, keyword optimisation and ranking factors is critical. Your SEO colleagues will appreciate it and you’ll become a better marketer in the process.
With a top-level grasp of the basics, you’ll be able to identify potential issues – for example, if your new content idea could cannibalise a commercial page – and mitigate these before resources are spent on content creation. You will also be able to better interrogate your campaign ideas (more on this below) and achieve better results for your clients or senior team.
Need somewhere to start? Check out this guide to searcher intent.
2. Resilience: embrace feedback
In content marketing – or any job involving content creation – one of the most important roles is that of an editor. An editor isn’t there to conduct a quick spell-check and fix some formatting issues, she is there to ensure that the tone is right, the objective is being met and that the piece of content is engaging. Think of the role as the missing link between you and the audience: is this content offering the best user experience?
However, with an editor comes, well, edits. Requests for changes are not personal or harsh (or shouldn’t be), they are an integral part of content production. Once you learn to view feedback as part of content marketing, you’ll find it can be the best motivator for pushing for better quality and better results. Resilience is, therefore, one of the top skills for content marketers.
3. Critiquing skills: learn to interrogate your ideas
You come up with a great idea – a juicy series of interviews or a video campaign on social – only for it to fall at the first (or any) hurdle. You find that the idea is already done, the client would never go for it, the budget is minute or that it isn’t relevant to the target audience. It’s happened to everyone. But while there is nothing wrong with blue-sky thinking, practicalities still need to be considered.
You’ll be relieved to know that it is possible to be an innovator and realist at the same time, but it takes practice. To make your life easier, try creating a list of questions that you can use to interrogate your ideas. For example:
- What is unique about this idea? Not all ideas need to be original, but they do need to offer something new. What angle can you come up with that no one has done before?
- Can the content be created within budget? If the answer is no, have fun working out how you could reduce the spend in clever ways.
- Does this content meet the brief? Never stray too far from the core objective (unless you are a risk-taker with nothing to los, of course).
- Are there any other types of content that would be more appropriate for this idea? For example, if you’re doing an original research study, would an interactive infographic be better than a straightforward write up of the results?
- How would people see the content? Don’t assume that just because you publish something that users will flock to see it. More on this below.
The more you interrogate your marketing strategy and campaign ideas, the more productive pitching ideas will become.
From long-form copy to video production, great content marketing can be expensive. Knowing how to get the best output for your money comes mainly from experience – you’ll learn simple ways to save money and become more efficient. Someone new to digital marketing might quote a few hours to write an article, for example, but with experience, you might know to allow extra time for amends and proofreading.
That said, there is a lot to budgeting that is simple maths. Improving your arithmetic skills will help you in your content marketing career more than you might expect. At the very least, you should get to grips with how budgeting works at your company: are you expected to turn a profit on what you do or are you given a fixed maximum budget? What happens if you go over budget? Who is responsible for outsourcing and do you know when to use it and whether you can negotiate rates? The more accustomed you are with budget processes, the easier you’ll find it to plan your campaigns efficiently.
5. Briefing: use your expertise to get the best from others
If you have a need for outsourcing, whether that be design, writing or video production, you should make sure that you get what you expect from the freelancer or agency, first time. There is nothing worse than spending money on commissioning only to have to redo the job or spend hours giving feedback. If you find this happening, it may be because your briefing skills are not up to scratch.
Your brief should cover what content needs to be created, who this content is for (audience), where it will be published and, crucially, its purpose. (If you can’t easily answer these questions then you may need to revisit your content strategy). To make the process more efficient, you could develop a template that can simply adapt as required. You should also ask for feedback on the briefing process – learn the aspects that you need to include and how you can mitigate potential miscommunications.
As with all skills for content marketers, you’ll improve with practice. But for a head start, check out my blog on creating writing briefs to discover some of the essential information to include.
6. Promotion planning for content marketing
Don’t forget the marketing part of content marketing. Content creation is easy. Creating high-quality content that reaches and resonates with the target audience is much harder. Learn to think strategically about what you’re creating and understand how the content will do the job you want it to. For example, if you’re creating a recipe blog series because your audience engages with this content on a competitor’s site, consider how they will know to go to your site instead.
There are lots of ways to promote your content, both organic and paid. If your content is unique, consider creating a press release. If you’re making content in the hope of ranking for a certain keyword, then make sure it actually has a chance of ranking. When you publish a new blog post, make sure it is linked internally from other relevant pages. If there is low site traffic and you’re planning a one-off brand campaign then consider options like paid social. If the company has a newsletter, are you providing assets that make including it simple?
Skilling up in promotional planning can help you to ensure that you are a content marketer and not just a content creator.
7. Data analysis
If you want to be able to measure the success of your content marketing, you must be able to interpret data from Google Analytics, Google Search Console, social media platforms and similar. You don’t need to be a data analyst, but you should know enough to be able to check page views and rankings over time and determine the demographic breakdown of your social channels and how people are consuming the content that you produce.
The most important quality you need to progress your skills in this area is curiosity. Ask questions and then find where the answer is and how you can find it. If you want to know how many pages the average user views per session, then find out how to do this. If you have an in-house data expert then get them to show you the ropes. Alternatively, Google Analytics offers free, interactive beginner courses. You’ll also find that there are plenty of help articles and YouTube tutorials online for a range of social and search tools.
Once you have got to grips with data analysis – the cornerstone of digital marketing – you can get more creative with your queries. For example:
- Have an article that gets lots of organic traffic but no one’s staying on the page or site? Analyse why this might be: could it be because the page is targeting the wrong keywords? Find out by reviewing the keywords that are ranking in Google Search Console, ahrefs.com or similar.
- Wondering why you’re content isn’t getting as much social media engagement as you expected? Learn more about the demographics of your social media audience: does your content appeal to the users? Is there a better time of day you could post?
Being able to interrogate the performance of the content you’re producing (and other online content) means you can use these insights to improve what you do – think more strategically, add more value.
This varied seven-part skill set is easy to learn and difficult to master.
The suggestion here is not to become a hybrid content marketer/data analyst/finance manager/SEO expert but to integrate these skills into your approach to content marketing. Do this and you’ll soon find yourself becoming a better content marketer.