If you’ve ever Googled best practices for increasing your organic traffic or improving your SEO in general, I’m sure by now you’ve read that you need a pretty solid content marketing strategy.

 

Chances are you’ve been told over and over again to create “quality and long-form” content.

 

Perhaps you decided you would give it a go, and maybe even hire a content writer to do the bulk of the content creation for you.

 

Then you probably went ahead and published that article, right? Figured all that was left to do was to sit back and wait for the traffic to roll in, right?

 

Let me guess, nothing happened.

 

And maybe you even promoted it on social media, and tried to get some links too, but your traffic still didn’t budge.

 

So then maybe you decide you just need to write a lot MORE content. And you start publishing new long articles every day.

 

Still no improvement. And your organic growth looks something like this:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

Or this:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

Mostly stagnant, with a few random spikes here and there?

Or it might even look like this, but it’s still nothing to write home about:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

By the way, each one of these sites claims to be an “expert” when it comes to content marketing. So chances are, these are the folks you’re getting your information from.

 

I’m sorry to break it to you, but they can’t even practice what they preach.

 

Now, if you want your traffic to look more like this, where it’s consistently trending up:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

Then you should definitely keep reading, because I’m going to tell you exactly how to accomplish it. And the best part is, it doesn’t even take that long to start seeing the impact.
 

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Preparing your content marketing strategy

 

In this article I’m going to cover what I consider the 4 most important aspects of preparing your content marketing strategy to achieve organic growth. Those aspects are:

 

  • Goals: How to establish specific goals for various types of content.
  • Research: How to strategically research which keywords to rank for.
  • Authority: How to structure your content to establish your authority to Google.
  • Promotion: How to effectively promote various types of content for impactful growth.

 

In other words, GRAP; it’s like Grape without the E, or better yet, wine before it has matured.

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

I’d also like to state not to take my own website as an example of my knowledge and execution of this framework. Rather, take a look at Venngage since that’s where most of my time and energy goes. When I get home, I’m far too lazy to work on my own site, and I’d much rather engage in the other kind of wine- red.

 

Did you get it? The joke? Red wine…not the un-matured wine formerly referred to as GRAP…? No? Never mind let’s move on.

 

1) Set goals for your content strategy to achieve organic growth

 

So we’ve established we want to avoid putting together a content strategy that results in your organic traffic looking like the first three charts above, and we want to create a content marketing strategy that will result in consistent and scalable organic growth like that last example I shared, right?

 

Super. Glad we are on the same page.

 

Well, the first step in the GRAP framework is to set content goals. And in case you were born yesterday, the thing about goals is that you need to set them if you ever want to achieve anything.

 

Afterall, have you ever met anyone who achieved exponential growth or success just because they aimlessly waved their arms around? This ain’t Hogwarts, so you need to set some strategic goals.

 

Know what you’re trying to achieve with your content strategy

 

Setting goals is easier said than done, but don’t worry I’ll tell you how I typically approach this process when trying to rank higher on Google.

 

First thing worth noting is that there are a lot of layers to organic growth. So your content strategy needs to take those layers into account.

 

Here is a very basic breakdown of how one might envision “winning” at Google:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

As you can see, there are a few endpoints on this simple mind map (that kind of looks like a one-legged stick man who is lying down).

 

They are:

 

  • More traffic
  • Higher domain authority
  • Higher conversions

 

I think we can all agree that ideally we would like to create content that achieves every single one of these things. But here’s the thing, it’s a bit tricky to accomplish all of those goals, consistently when you are relying on the same process for content creation.

 

For instance, your product or service might be relatively niche, and if you only create content that is optimized for conversions, let’s say, it might not be as easy to rank on really high volume keywords.

 

And if you’re trying to boost your domain authority, you need to get high quality backlinks and press mentions. But again, sites like Mashable or Forbes or Wall Street Journal probably don’t care about your article on “Growth hacks for content marketing” (or mine for that matter). It’s just not clickbait enough for a global audience, you know?

 

SO maybe it makes more sense to create different types of content with different goals in mind. Get where I’m going?

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

Here is a chart of how my team approaches our content strategy. Our content calendar is broken down into various types of content that we cycle through, but I’ll tell you about three types that address the goals we outlined above.

 

Viral/Editorial Content: Content with the primary purpose of getting high quality press mentions and backlinks.

Inspirational Content: Content with the primary purpose of ranking for various high-volume and long-tail keywords.

Actionable Content: Content with primary purpose of solving a customer pain point and educating users.

 

I will also state that these content goals are very specific to Venngage. Rather than copying them exactly, consider them guidelines for structuring your own content.

 

The next part of the GRAP framework is research. So let’s take a closer look at that.

 

2) Research which keywords to rank for and create your content plan

 

If I had a loonie (that’s a Canadian dollar by the way) for everytime someone told me they don’t take keyword research into account when they plan what content to create, I’d have at least enough to take myself out to a nice dinner.

 

Logically of course, not conducting effective keyword research makes no sense to me.

 

What is the point of creating something and spending so much time producing a solid piece of content, if you haven’t even taken into account whether or not people are actually looking for that type of content? Know what I mean?

 

Doesn’t it make more sense to guarantee you’ll at least get some benefit out of it and that it’s worth writing in the first place?

 

The difference between intent-based and informational-based keywords

 

Before I get into the nitty gritty of how to plan your content and keyword research at a high-level, let’s first establish the types of pages you’re probably hoping to drive organic traffic to. For most people, it can be simplified as such:

 

  • Your “boring pages”
  • Your “not as boring pages”

 

What are “boring pages”?

 

When I refer to boring pages, I’m also referring to high-converting pages. Or more specifically, pages that target “high intent” keywords.

 

These are pages that provide the solution for a problem a potential customer already knows they have. In other words, their buyer intent is quite high.

 

An example of a high-intent keyword might be something like “Marketing Automation Software”. If someone is searching for that, there is a good chance they are looking for a marketing automation software.

 

But as you can see here, this type of keyword is highly competitive:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

And naturally, it’s harder to rank organically for keywords like this since they are so “salesy” in nature. People just aren’t as inclined to naturally link to these pages in their content if your solution or brand isn’t already well-known and liked. In other words, they are “boring” to link to.

 

So what people tend to do, is buy ads for high-intent keywords because it’s faster and easier (but naturally much more expensive when the competition is so high).

 

Rand Fishkin even stated recently that the click-through-rate for organic results versus PPC results is still significantly higher, and makes up roughly 38.2% of clicks from Google. Paid ads are only generating 3.4% of clicks and 61.8% of people aren’t even clicking through due to new features which are providing answers immediately in the SERPs.

 

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

Point being? People are shovelling money into PPC and only taking a fraction of the traffic.

 

What are “not as boring pages”?

 

Then you have what I refer to as “not as boring pages”. In other words, these are pages targeting “informational keywords”.

 

Pages like this are typically for people who know they have a problem, but the difference is that they don’t know what possible solutions exist. So rather than searching for “Marketing automation software” for instance, which is the solution, they are searching for their problem. Something like “how to nurture leads”.

 

With informational keywords, your audience isn’t always ready to make a purchase, but they are hoping to learn something.

 

And you probably realized by now, but these keywords aren’t nearly as competitive:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

And you’ve also probably realized by now that “not as boring pages” are usually blog pages.

 

Creating your content keyword organization system

 

For the sake of this article, I am only going to focus on building a system for the “not so boring pages”, meaning your blog.

 

The first step is developing your very own content keyword organization system. Read this article on SEO basics to get a better idea of which tools can help you with conducting keyword research.  

 

Here is a simple keyword system I put together to show what planning content for my own blog might look like:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

You probably have primary categories that your blog covers. These are typically more general topics like “Leadership” or “Marketing”. Within those bigger categories, are more specific subcategories like the ones indicated in this spreadsheet.

 

For instance, the category of “Leadership” might include topics like “Management”, “Company Culture” and “Productivity”.

 

Then those subcategories have even more specific sub-subcategories like this:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

 

Breaking down management into specific keywords might include variations of ideas that branch off of it’s parent category. Like “People management” or “Management skills”.

 

And then those branches would break down further into more long-tail keywords like this:

CONTENT MARKETING FRAMEWORK

As you can see something like “People management” could encompass a more long-tail search term like “improve employee performance”.

 

Now there are a few reasons for creating something like this, but the main purpose is to better understand the depth and theme of the topics you are writing about, and to better identify what answers people are actually searching for.

 

This process can be quite time-consuming and can go pretty deep, especially once you start researching for long-tail keywords. However I do think it is a necessary part of the process, especially if you want to effectively drive more organic traffic to your site.

 

Get Keyword Research Template


 

After all you want to avoid creating more content, and rather focus on creating quality content that engages your audience.

 

It’s also extremely relevant when trying to establish an authority for your site. Which is of course, the next part of the GRAP framework.

 

3) Produce authoritative content to rank faster and drive more traffic to your site

 

The process mentioned above is a methodology to help you eventually develop a stronger content authority.

 

What is content authority?

 

Content authority is a process not a thing. Another term that essentially defines this process which you may have heard before is “content cluster”. In layman’s terms, if your site consistently produces content that falls within a specific topic realm, eventually people (and also Google) will start to consider your site an authority on that subject.

 

For instance, if you write a lot about content marketing best practices and continue to build links to that content, and it performs well, eventually you will start to see a natural boost on related content. But if you suddenly start tossing in an article here and there about health and wellness, for instance, Google (and others) will probably not consider you an authority on that subject, and you will likely not see much impact from this unrelated article.

 

Identifying the structure of your authoritative content strategy

 

Allow me to now explain the purpose for approaching keyword research as a breakdown process.

In my underwhelming spreadsheet above, I reference the overarching category of “Leadership” and I have a column for a “Suggested Title” and another for a “Suggested Editorial Title”. Then there are some columns for similar content related to that keyword.

 

All of the research and content ideas you add to your “category” sheet are what will eventually guide the pillar content pages that you create.

 

Eventually, as you continue to produce content, you’ll build out a web of inter-related topics that essentially create this bubble (or content cluster) on your site. The more content you produce, the more complex and intricate those clusters can become. Here’s what a more developed cluster on the topic of “Leadership” might look like, based off of the structure outlined in the previous section:

Content Marketing Framework

 

Now here’s where it gets really exciting. If you’d been keeping up with my madness, you might start to see why the various “content goals” I mentioned can tie into this process too.

 

Rather than just writing one article to target the keyword of “Leadership” you’re actually writing content on related themes of “Leadership” (like “management skills” or “team management skills”) which will eventually intertwine and push people to your pillar article.

 

For the sake of this example, as per the suggested title in the spreadsheet, that article might be called What is Leadership?

 

But now you can also write an actionable type of article that might be called How to be an effective leader, and then you could write an inspirational type of article that could be called 50 inspirational leadership quotes to get you through your day. And finally, you might have an editorial type of article called Leadership skills CEOs from Fortune 500 companies all have in common.

 

And when we map out how that works, it looks a little something like this:

Content Marketing Framework

 

Woah, right? Did I just blow your mind? Because I think I blew my own mind.

Content Marketing Framework

 

But naturally, none of this really matters unless people are actually reading your content. Which is where the P in GRAP comes in. Promotion.

 

4) Promoting various types of content for effective organic growth

 

When it comes to content marketing, the unfortunate truth is that too many people spend all of their time creating “amazing” content and not enough time actually promoting it.

 

But promoting your content (and promoting it right) is the only way anyone will actually see what you’ve created…obviously…

 

It’s kind of like baking a dozen cookies; if you have no one to share them with, what’s the point? Sure you can eat them all yourself, but no one will know how good they are, and you’ll probably feel really bloated and tired after.

 

Creating content but having no one to read it is the EXACT same feeling (don’t question this).

 

By now, you should hopefully have a better idea of how to create content that has a goal, is keyword-driven and authoritative. In this section I will attempt to give you an overview of some best practices for promoting the various types of content we’ve discussed.

 

Acquiring high-quality backlinks to your content

 

As you know, acquiring high-quality backlinks is a major ranking factor for Google, and in order to continue scaling your organic efforts, you need a system in place that will allow you to gain lots of relevant backlinks consistently.

In order to do this, you need to know:

 

  • What types of tools you can use to identify backlinking opportunities
  • Methods to scale your outreach efforts
  • And best-practices for cold-outreach

 

Tools for identifying backlinking opportunities:

 

I’m not going to bother telling you all of the tools you can use for SEO, since Brian Dean has already created a really robust and great resource here. However, I will tell you about the two that I use most and which go hand in hand.

 

Ahrefs:

The first one is Ahrefs, specifically the Content Explorer tool.

Let’s assume I have written an article which I have already optimized for terms relating to “infographic design”.

Using the Content Explorer tool, I can see who has written an article on the subject.

Content Marketing Framework

 

Now I have a list of content that mentions that term either in the title or in the body of the page. I can then filter domain rating to only include highly rated domains so I can ensure I’m only reaching out to sites that are authoritative.

Content Marketing Framework

 

But here’s the caveat. You’re probably thinking that it makes a lot of sense to reach out to people who have mentioned the term you’re trying to rank for in the title, right?

 

Sure that can work sometimes, but chances are if someone has written an article with the keyword “Infographic design” in the title, they might actually be trying to rank for that term as well. So why should they give you a link and potentially hurt their own chances of ranking?

 

So, instead you can try looking for content that includes the term within the content.

Here’s an example of an article that mentions the keyword I want to rank for, but may not be trying to rank for the same word:

Content Marketing Framework

 

Now I can reach out to this person and write a very specific and customized outreach email that pinpoints exactly where I want the link.

 

It also means that the author of this content can just CTRL-F that bad boy and help me out without having to do any additional work themselves. How thoughtful am I, right?

 

Mailshake:

But of course, manually reaching out to every site is going to take a lot of time and on top of that you probably won’t get great results since the reply rates are usually pretty low for cold outreach.

 

So it benefits you to have a tool to help you with outreach. There are a dozen great options, and Mailshake is one of those. You have a lot of room for outreach customization and personalization to maximize your results.

Content Marketing Framework

 

You can create multiple campaigns and set up as many follow-ups as your little heart desires (but try not to be too excessive here or you’ll piss a lot of people off…).

 

Scaling your outreach efforts:

 

Great, now you have a process you can test out. But let’s face it, replying to hundreds of emails every day for outreach purposes is time-consuming, especially if you want to do it right. So scaling up can be tricky.

 

But you don’t want just anyone promoting the content you’ve written- it’s impersonal right? You should still be doing the bulk of the outreach and relationship building, however there are some stages in the process where you can afford to step back a little.

 

I like to think of securing a link like closing a sales deal. A lot of the same principles apply. You need to convince someone else to help you hit your quota, and in order to do that well it helps if you have a good relationship with that person.

 

So, let’s start by thinking of link building as a process with multiple steps or “stages”.

 

Naturally there are certain parts of the process that you can’t delegate or offload to an assistant, but there are some parts that are not worth your time.

 

You see, once you finally send your campaign and you’re waiting for replies, there are three types of replies you will get (aside from autoresponders).

 

  • Yes/Yes, but
  • No
  • Need more information

 

Realistically, you only need to concern yourself with the “Yes” people since those are the ones you want to build a relationship with. In some cases you will get a “Yes, but” reply where the respondent will likely have some additional requests. Or they might need some more information, which you can prewrite and train a virtual assistant to answer those inquiries in your place. I recommend looking on Upwork to find someone remote.

 

Of course, you can always decide to hop in and answer some inquiries yourself if need be.

 

The reason for doing this is to ensure you are optimizing your time and nurturing the “link leads” that matter.

 

Best practices for cold outreach

 

I’ll keep this part short because when it comes to cold-outreach, a template that works for one person may not work for you.

 

My only recommendation is to make sure you are doing your research so that you understand who the person is that you’re trying to get in touch with. And remember, even though you are using machines to automate parts of your outreach process, you are still interacting with people so you need to be able to empathize with them/get them to empathize with you.

 

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when structuring your outreach:

 

  • Make sure you are culling your lists and that any content you are referencing in your pitch is actually relevant to the link you want.
  • Inject your personality in your email- you should be yourself (unless “yourself” sucks…then be someone better)
  • Give them a reason to care about what you’re doing. The more they care, the better your chances are of getting that link.
  • Short doesn’t always work. Play around and test different types of emails to see what yields the best results.
  • Write well. Bad grammar is never a good sign.
  • Always think about the relationship first and view link building as a long-term strategy, not a quick win.
  • Structure your follow-ups with enough time apart. Sometimes people just need a couple of days to reply.
  • Offer something of value in exchange.

 

Outreach and link building is a highly iterative process. You need to keep tweaking and improving your technique if you want to see consistent results and growth.

 

Conclusion

 

Many marketers may not consider content marketing to be the same as growth marketing. But all growth marketing really is, is a data-driven and iterative approach to growth. The goal is to get big results by taking calculated risks.

 

Once something works, you can build a strategy and process around it and keep building on that strategy. I hope that those of you who do not consider content marketing to be an effective or lucrative growth channel strongly reconsider and put the GRAP framework into action.

 

Content, and growth by content is not just about “storytelling” and finding a great “clickbait titles”, it’s about leveraging data and developing a structured process based off of that data. If you want to succeed and drive massive traffic without a big budget, you need to think more like a growth marketer and maybe don’t take the word of every “content marketing expert” as absolute fact.

 

Don’t forget to leave me a comment below with your thoughts or any other strategies you have found helpful in scaling your traffic without spending tons of money.

 

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