What is this guide?
An introduction to creating a strategy for content development and promotion that helps achieve key business goals.
Who is this guide for?This guide is for B2Bs interested in bringing traffic to their website and attracting, nurturing, and converting leads through high-quality content.
What will I learn and be able to do with this information?
You’ll learn what goes into a data-driven, targeted content strategy, and how to start your own, including goal setting, KPIs, keyword and competitor research, content planning and types, promotion, and more.
B2B product and service sales can be frustratingly slow. Many companies need to diligently nurture leads across a series of stages before they close. More and more, B2Bs are relying on web leads to fill their sales pipelines with future customers.
Since websites have become the go-to place for those looking to learn about a specific product or service, companies that develop a content strategy targeting their ideal buyers are the ones who are moving up search engine result listings—attracting a greater share of the audience of potential buyers actively searching for solutions.
The trick is, while just about anyone can create a piece of content—be it an article, blog post, sales sheet, case study, or other resource—it takes a well-planned strategy to ensure it’s exactly what prospects will find useful enough to seriously consider in the face of competitors trying to do the same thing.
Let’s dive into what exactly goes into a B2B content strategy, why it makes a difference to potential customers, and how it can help accelerate traditionally long sales cycles.
Content strategy 101
In the context of digital marketing, content strategy is the process by which you identify your audience and their preferences, evaluate the content you have, find opportunities for future content, strategize how to promote, optimize, and distribute your content, and organize your content production process.
In short, it’s a strategic plan to produce content that attracts prospects and encourages them to convert into customers by positioning your product or service as a solution to their problem. Content strategy is useful for long sales cycles because it can accelerate the journey a prospect takes from one step to the next—preventing them from falling off at any point.
While we could spend a whole day unpacking content strategy, we’ve boiled it down into a concise set of steps you can apply to your own business.
1. Determine your goals and KPIs.
The first step in planning any B2B content strategy is to set goals. The SMART methodology is a popular framework many marketers use to ensure their goals are both realistic and achievable. It’s simple, easy to use, and more importantly, useful in determining whether the substance of your strategy is sound.
SMART stands for:
Your goal is narrow enough that you are able to create a focused plan for achieving it. You can be more specific by taking a general goal, like “create new content” and answering the following questions:
- Who: Who needs to be involved in achieving the goal?
- What: What, precisely do you want to achieve?
- When: Within what time frame must you achieve this goal?
- Where: If this goal needs to be achieved in a particular place, where?
- Which: Which obstacles need to be overcome in order to achieve this goal, if any?
- Why: What is the ultimate objective of this goal?
This guide walks you through questions like these and more in greater detail.
You are able to use metrics to track your progress and determine whether or not you achieved your goal.
To make a goal measurable, define which metrics (key performance indicators) you will use to assess your progress toward achieving the goal and ultimately determine whether the goal was achieved by your deadline.
You can reasonably meet this goal within the time frame you have specified. To ensure that a goal is attainable, check to see if it can realistically be achieved within a certain time frame.
It aligns with your business’s needs and objectives.To ensure that your goal is relevant, ask yourself if achieving it will move your B2B business forward in achieving its future objectives.
You have defined a time frame for achieving this goal and have set a deadline. Set a realistic deadline for your goal completion. To start setting SMART goals, check out HubSpot's template.
Set KPIs for your SMART goals.
To make sure that your goal is measurable, define key performance indicators (KPIs) that can help you measure progress toward your goal and determine whether or not you achieved it. Which KPI(s) you will use will depend entirely on your goal. Some examples of B2B KPIs include:
- MQLs (marketing qualified leads) generated
- SQLs (sales qualified leads) generated
- Lead to customer conversion rate
- Number of MQL visits to your site
- Number of conversions from each piece of content
For example, let’s say you wanted to create a content campaign around a new piece of bottom-funnel content—promoted with LinkedIn ads—to generate 25% more leads by the end of the first quarter.
You could use KPIs like the page views for your new content and number of new users from LinkedIn and organic search as measures of how much traffic your campaign is generating.
Next, you could set up a goal in Google Analytics to measure the number of people who are clicking on the offers in your new piece of content. This would give you the exact number of leads it generated.
By the end of the quarter, you will easily be able to see how many people have converted into leads by clicking on offers in your new content, verifying whether or not you have achieved your goal.
2. Ensure you have a flexible content management system (CMS).
In order to easily add, edit, and manage website content without turning to a web developer every time, make sure you have a flexible content management system (CMS). A content management system is a tool used to build and manage your website.
A flexible content management system allows non-developers to easily add and edit pages. Since content creators are typically not developers, this is essential infrastructure for your content strategy. There are a number of CMS options for your professional B2B website, such as Wordpress, Webflow, and HubSpot CMS Hub.
3. Tailor content to the decision-makers.
To create content that is going to generate leads, you must first define your target audience. In the case of B2Bs, your target audiences are likely the decision-makers and their influencers or gatekeepers. They either have the authority to make the decision to purchase your services or product or have significant sway over that decision.
These people expect more than surface-level insights—they want the solutions to their company’s problems laid out in front of them. Content strategies that address the needs of decision makers will ultimately fare better than those that turn their websites into virtual brochures. The best way to start targeting your content to your target audience is to lay out the problems you think these people are facing and connect the dots with content explaining how your product speaks directly to those issues.
Create buyer personas.
Odds are, you already have a good idea of who your best customers are and some of the problems they face. To put these down onto paper, you can create buyer persona(s). A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal client. It includes key information such as:
- “Pain points” (what concerns prevent them from making a purchase, like cost)
- Problems they face (like budget constraints)
- Motivations for making a purchase (such as wanting to free up time)
- Goals (such as gaining more qualified leads per month)
- Demographic information (like age, education, income, and more)
You can create your own buyer persona with HubSpot’s free template in minutes.
Identify topics that interest your personas.
It’s tempting to assume that you know what interests your personas. However, if possible, survey your existing customers that fit into your personas to validate your assumptions and surface new ideas. Salespeople can also be extremely helpful for identifying and prioritizing topics based on firsthand interactions. It’s also helpful to learn where your personas spend time on the internet, and what types of content they prefer to consume.
- What sources do they trust for information? You might try to emulate the tone of their writing or presentation of information.
- What social media platforms do they prefer? Consider focusing your social media activity on those platforms, and/or advertising your website content there.
- What content types do they most enjoy? This data can help you decide what types of content to produce.
If you’re doing your own research, make note of topics and content types that already interest your persona and create a list you can use to manage your content.
Learn how to refine your personas.
4. Audit your content to identify strengths and opportunities.
Another way you can identify topics that interest your personas is to perform a content audit of all of your existing content—if you already have some. If you don’t have any content yet, you can skip to the next section—keyword research. In your audit, identify:
- Your top performing content: Looking at what interested your visitors in the past can help you learn what might engage them in the future.
- Your underperforming content: Identifying content that doesn’t get read helps you weed out stuff that’s just taking up space.
- Topics and subtopics you have covered: can help you create topic clusters and build a content strategy.
- What buyer’s journey stage each piece of content targets: helps you identify opportunities for targeting unaddressed audiences and fine-tuning your calls to action to be more compelling to your personas and their current situation.
- Age of content: helps you identify old content that should be archived or updated.
Source: Google Sheets
In a new page of your Excel or Google Sheets workbook, list each piece of content and the following information.
- Content URL
- Content title
- The core topic it addresses: Many blogs use tags like “cybersecurity,” “grammar tips,” or “dental hygiene” to organize posts by topic from the time they are published. If your website is not laid out this way, just enter what you think the core topic is.
- Major subtopic(s) it addresses
- How many views or visits the page received (one measure of popularity)
- How many times people converted on your offer (how effective the page is at generating leads)
- How many times people shared your page
- How many likes people gave your content
- Publish date
- Date it was last updated
- Buyer’s journey stage
Identify popular topics.
After you’ve filled your sheet, ask yourself:
- Which content got the most views?
- What topic(s) do they fall under?
These popular topics can give you an idea what your personas find interesting and what could be successfully expanded upon in future content.
Add a “popular topics” column of your “content ideas” tab and enter the core topics of your most popular posts.
5. Perform keyword research.
Keyword research is one of the core strategies of SEO and content marketing. It’s the process of identifying keywords to use in your writing that can help your content get found by your personas.
What are keywords?
For those who are unfamiliar, keywords and keyword phrases are words that people use to find something in a search engine. For example, “IT,” “wisconsin health it” and “health it in madison wi” could all be keywords or keyword phrases.
Web content is full of keywords. Google uses them to understand what a piece of content is about, such as what topics and subtopics it covers. It’s important to note that keywords and topics are not the same. They have different functions.
Keywords are words used to conduct searches, while topics are subjects you write about. However, a phrase like “health it support” could be either a keyword or a topic, depending on the context. For example, if I were to type “health it support” into a search engine, it would be a keyword.
However, if I were to use the same phrase within a piece of content, it would be a topic.
Identify keyword(s) to target.
In order to find the best keywords that will help get your content found, you need to conduct keyword research. If your B2B business has an active SEO strategy, you will most likely have a keyword list for your web content. If not, you will need to create one. To learn how to conduct keyword research, check out these resources:
- HubSpot’s “How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: A Beginner's Guide” (an exceptionally beginner-friendly tutorial)
- Ahref’s comprehensive “How to do Keyword research for SEO” (includes how to use certain keyword research tools)
- Our post on choosing the best B2B keywords
Keyword research will help you compile a list of keywords that can inspire future content ideas.
6. Perform a competitor content analysis.
As part of your keyword and topic research, it’s a good idea to analyze your competitors’ content strategies.
By uncovering their strengths and weaknesses—such as what topics their content covers, covers poorly, and doesn’t cover—you can learn from your competitors and identify topics they haven’t written about.
This typically involves four steps:
- Identify your major digital competitors. Your major competitors may not be the same online as offline, because your biggest competitors in the offline world may not have SEO websites with content strategies, or they may not be targeting the same keywords as you.
B2Bs targeting the same keywords in content aimed at the same personas are your digital competitors. You want to know who they are and what they’re doing so you can outperform them.
- Find their content. Identify where on their websites your digital competitors keep their content.
- Analyze their content, content strategy, and SEO. Skim your competitors' content to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for you to do better in your content. Assess how well their blog is laid out. Look at what keywords they are using in their titles. If you use a tool like SEMrush or Spyfu, take a deeper look at their content and keyword strategy.
- Identify content gaps. Identify topics and subtopics your competitors haven’t covered, or covered well. You can write about these topics and fill the gap.
Learn how to perform a competitor content analysis in detail.
7. Turn your keyword insights into an editorial plan.
Your next step is to use all of your research to plan content and create a strategic plan for creating it. This will involve using keywords to create titles for future content, deciding what type of content to write for each stage of each of your persona’s buyers journeys, and creating topic clusters that make your content easy to find and maximize SEO.
Should you focus on TOFU or BOFU first?
Many businesses create content aimed at potential customers at the top of the sales funnel (TOFU) first, and then create content for mid-funnel and bottom-funnel (BOFU) audiences.
The reasoning behind this is that potential customers at top of your sales funnel don’t know that they need your service yet, so you have to educate them about their problem with TOFU content, then help them evaluate potential solutions to their problem with mid-funnel content, and finally, help persuade them to use you as a vendor with BOFU content.
However, this approach may not work the best for everyone. Some businesses might profit from producing bottom-funnel content for potential customers who are ready to buy first, and then work up to TOFU content. This is because many potential customers already know what their problem is, and may already have evaluated options for solving that problem by the time they visit your website.
These BOFU, or “decision-stage” customers are the most likely to buy: your best prospects. As Hyam argues in this post, it might be better to prioritize creating content to attract middle and bottom-funnel readers first, and then create top of funnel content. This could be the best approach for your consulting firm, particularly if your superiors resist content marketing and you have a limited budget.
Use your keywords to make working titles for content.
Look at your keyword list. More than likely, you have broad body keywords (2-3 words) and specific long-tail keywords (4 or more words long).
Build working titles for broad, long-form content around your body keywords. For example, “keyword research” is such a big topic that it lends itself to guides like the one above. It has so many subtopics that it would be incredibly difficult to cover them all thoroughly in one blog post.
Build working titles for specific content around your long-tail keywords. They are better for creating content focused on a particular subtopic, such as “how to use Google Trends for keyword research” as in the example above.
Sort keywords by topic.
Arrange the content ideas in your list by topic. For example, let’s say one of your working titles is “Industrial packaging solutions: the buyer’s guide” and another working title is “Best commercial banding tools.”
Both pieces of content relate to the broad topic of commercial banding, so they can be grouped together. Go through your keywords and sort them by broad, core topics that are important to your business. Make sure that every group has a piece of broad content that provides an overview, and more specific pieces of content.
Some of your content ideas won’t fit cleanly into one of your main categories. That’s all right. Just let them have their own categories. You might also find that some groups have more content than others. That’s also fine. In grouping content this way, you have roughly planned out your topic clusters.
What are topic clusters?
Topic clusters are an efficient and SEO-friendly way to plan content.
Topic clusters: groups of content organized by topic.
Topic clusters; Source: HubSpot
Topic clusters are made of three elements:
- Pillar pages: long-form content, often in the form of a guide, that covers a broad topic and its subtopics, linking to other, in-depth content
- Content: blog posts, webinars, infographics, and more (often focused on a specific subtopic)
- Hyperlinks: links to internal and/or external resources
You can think of topic clusters as a network of content, from broad to specific. A broad pillar page links to specific blog posts (and other content types), which link to other specific content on your website and outside sources. It’s okay if not every topic that interests your clients fits neatly into a topic cluster.
If there is sufficient interest in that topic, plan to write an in-depth piece of content, like a guide or whitepaper, about it. For standalone subtopics, write a blog post, make a video, hold a webinar or create another type of content that interests your personas.
Topic clusters are a useful way to organize content on your firm’s website because they make it easier for visitors to find more content that interests them, and they are good for SEO.
Why topic clusters help satisfy search intent
For example, say a potential employee visits an HR consulting firm’s site to read their pillar page about jobs in human resource consulting. Every subsection links to other specific resources, such as a blog post about talent management, a webinar about employment compliance, and a white paper about how to select excellent job candidates in 2022.
In this way, one piece of content (the pillar page) becomes a resource containing links to other relevant content, making it easy for readers to learn what they need to know.
Why topic clusters are great for SEO
This relevance can potentially improve the pillar page’s SEO, because Google’s bots recognize that it covers a topic thoroughly and leads to other relevant pages. Plus, the linking structure of topic clusters are beneficial to SEO because they help distribute authority.
A web page’s authority is based on how well regarded and authoritative it is. On the web, links act like a pipeline for authority. If a popular, authoritative web page links to yours, it acts like a vote in your web page’s favor, because it signals that the authoritative website trusts yours.
Google’s algorithms reason that if a highly regarded website trusts yours, then your website must also be authoritative. As you accumulate votes (backlinks), your page becomes increasingly authoritative in Google’s eyes, which can help your page rank higher in search results.
- Provide a concise but informative overview of your core topic in your pillar page.
- Under each subtopic, link from your pillar page to a relevant blog post or other supporting piece of content that discusses that subtopic in more depth.
- Link from your blog post to your pillar page so that blog post readers can refer to your pillar page for a broad overview
By establishing links between the pillar page(s) and supporting content about a given topic, you complete that topic cluster and can begin to reap the SEO benefits of the topic cluster model. Learn more about making pillar pages.
Rank for easy keywords that will help you rank for harder ones.
Some keywords are easier to rank for than others.
As a refresher, there are three main types of keywords.
- Head keywords: broad keywords and keyword phrases that are typically one or two words long (“SEO”)
- Body keywords: more specific keyword phrases that are typically a few words long (“SEO for consultants”)
- Long-tail keywords: specific keyword phrases that are usually several words long, such as a head keyword “SEO” plus several additional keywords that modify it, which create a metaphorical tail, hence “long-tail” (best SEO practices for consultants)
Head keywords relate to a broad topic or idea. Body keywords branch off into more specific sub-ideas. Long-tail keywords branch off the body keywords into even more specific ideas. Many long-tail keywords have less search volume and lower competition than shorter, broader “head” and “body” keywords. This often makes it easier for content that targets these keywords to rank higher in search results, faster.
If you want to rank for a more competitive keyword, like “business consulting services” you might go after “business intelligence consulting” or “top intelligence consulting firms in Madison.” and other lower competition keywords. If you write about a topic often enough and well enough, sometimes Google will allow you to start ranking for more competitive keywords that relate to topics your content covers. Bottom line: go after long-tail keywords that are easy to rank for first, and you might be able to rank for competitive keywords valuable to your business.
8. Plan content for every stage of the buyer’s journey.
It’s useful to look at content from two perspectives: your sales cycle stage, and your potential client’s buyer’s journey stage. If the sales cycle is the process by which you acquire a customer, then the buyer’s journey is the process by which a lead becomes a customer.
In keeping with the idea of writing for your audience, it’s a good idea to think about your buyer’s needs at each stage of the buyer’s journey in addition to your sales cycle objectives. What is the buyer’s journey?
For those who are unfamiliar, the buyer’s journey is a model, similar to the sales funnel, that describes the process a person goes through before making a purchase. However, unlike the sales funnel, the buyer’s journey is from the buyer’s perspective, rather than the company’s. It has three stages:
Awareness stage (top funnel)
Buyers at this stage are experiencing a problem, but they don’t know what it is. They want to identify their problem. This runs parallel to the “prospecting” and “connecting” stages in the sales cycle. At this point, you are trying to acquire new prospects.
Consideration stage (mid-funnel)
Buyers at this stage understand what their problem is, but don’t know how to solve it. They are exploring solutions to their problem. This runs parallel to the “research” stage in the sales cycle. Your prospect has become a lead by demonstrating interest in your company, and you want to demonstrate why your company would be a good solution to their problem.
Decision stage (bottom of funnel)
Buyers at this stage have chosen a solution to their problem, but they don’t know which vendor to use. They are ready to choose a vendor and make a purchase. This runs parallel to the “presentation” and “objection handling” stages in the sales cycle.
You’re pitching your company as the best solution to your prospect’s problem, and managing their objections. The buyer’s journey model focuses on the needs of your potential customers, while the sales cycle model focuses on your needs at each stage of the process.
Mapping your content to each stage of the cycle
With solution-based content ideas in mind, the next step is deciding where that information needs to get delivered during the sales cycle. You want to ensure that you are planning content that meets the needs of potential customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey. B2B buyers prefer content that answers their questions and helps them meet their objectives at each stage of the research process. It generally breaks down like this:
Prospecting and connecting: deliver awareness stage content.
The company blog is your strongest tool to utilize during the initial discovery phase. Usually found when searching for relevant information in search engines, regular blogging improves web visibility and provides readers with a variety of topical information designed to send them into the initial sales phase.
This content is designed to help potential customers understand what their problem is. Often, these customers are new to the topics they are reading about, so you could think of these posts as introductions to a topic, written for beginners.
Researching: deliver consideration stage content.
This is your chance to deliver more in-depth content that prospects can use to understand the problems your product solves and what it has accomplished for other companies in the past. Whitepapers, eBooks, and case studies are your most powerful assets here.
The readers of this content typically have some background knowledge about the topic, since they understand what problem they have. However, this background knowledge may vary from reader to reader. As a result, it’s a good idea to write for the minimum level of background knowledge while acknowledging those with a more advanced understanding. This content is written for someone at an intermediate level.
Presenting and handling objections: deliver decision stage content.
Prospects at this stage should be considered serious contenders looking for highly detailed information. For high-tech B2B, this usually comes in the form of detailed technology guides written for industry professionals to understand. The final stage of the cycle is less about new kinds of content offers and more about how they plan to implement it within their business.
This is where your sales team needs to shine brightest. You can think of this content as a written presentation, (or supplementary resources that accompany a presentation) of your company’s expertise and successes in the past. Buyers at each stage have unique questions and objectives.
The task of the content marketer is just as much about answering potential client’s questions and providing educational material that can help them meet their objectives as it is about communicating the value of a particular product.
A well-designed B2B content strategy should read like a curriculum—delivering a wide-range of industry knowledge (from beginner to advanced level topics) that demonstrates your expertise, shares insights from authoritative figures, and describes solutions to common problems.
9. Create a content calendar.
A content calendar is simply a schedule for content creation which includes deadlines for each stage of all your active projects. It can take many forms, from physical or digital calendars, to spreadsheets, templates, and software, depending on the needs of your B2B content team.
Consider these factors when putting together a content calendar:
- How big is your content marketing team? If you have a larger team of over 20-30 people, you may need a more robust system than a team of 1-6 people. Generally, the larger the team, the greater the need for a strictly organized system in order to avoid confusion.
- What platforms should you use? It’s a good idea to choose platforms that decision makers spend time on, as well as your own website.
- How often do you want to post on each platform? Each platform has its own posting etiquette, such as how many times it’s polite to post each day. Plus, you don’t want to spread yourself thin by trying to generate so much content that you can’t deliver quality. Today, quality is generally more important than volume in the content world.
- What type of content do you want to create? Create content that interests your personas and brings traffic to your site. The research you did earlier should have helped you identify your audience’s favorite content types.
- How far ahead do you need to plan? There don’t seem to be hard and fast guidelines. It will likely depend on factors such as the size of your team, the type of content you’re creating, your content volume, and your other obligations. We plan most of our posts a year ahead of time, and Buffer recommends working anywhere from a year to a day ahead for social media posts. However, if you plan on creating a guide, white paper, or pillar page, it will take you at least a few weeks to make it. The challenge is keeping your content fresh and relevant without scrambling to slap something together last minute. Create an organized plan that is realistic for you and your team, but build in some flexibility for changes.
- Who will be assigned each task? It’s a good idea to think about the roles each team member would best play in your content team. For example, one team member might handle your social media posts, another could write web content, and another could copy edit their colleague’s work.
Include these elements in your content calendar:
- Deadlines for every stage of each project (such as separate deadlines for drafting, revision, and editing)
- Deadlines for promoting content (such as creating an ad set on LinkedIn)
- Recurrent deadlines (for example, maybe you post once a week on Facebook)
- Content type (pillar page, blog post, social media post) Who is assigned each task (for example, who is assigned the draft vs. who is supposed to copy-edit it)
- Where your content will be published (for example, on Facebook, on your website)
- A separate list of content ideas that are yet to be scheduled
Here are some content calendar options.
- Physical calendar
- Google Calendar
- Spreadsheets like MS Excel or Google Sheets (Here are some Excel templates)
- Software (like Airtable or Coschedule)
10. Promote your content.
B2B content types
The next step is to plan how to promote the content that you create. While optimizing your content for SEO can help it rank well in search engine result pages, which can make it more visible to potential clients, content still needs to be promoted in order to reach the largest number of people possible. There are many ways to promote content, but here are a few beginner-friendly methods.
Email lists and newsletters
If you have a monthly newsletter or an email list, you can promote your content to this audience. Mention your newest and best content in your newsletter, or create regular emails that showcase your content using email marketing software like Drip.
If you want to put together a newsletter, this GoDaddy post has some nice tips. If you create a blog, make sure it has a “subscription” call to action that allows potential clients to get email notifications whenever you post new content. Another easy way to promote your content is to add a link to your latest content to your email signature. Wise Stamp is one tool you can use to do this.
Social media posts
You can post about your content on social media channels your personas frequent, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Read more about promoting content on social media.
Whenever you create a new piece of content, you can create an ads campaign on Facebook or LinkedIn. Both platforms have powerful audience targeting features that allow you to customize your audience by geographical area, demographics, industry, and even interests they’ve expressed online.
On LinkedIn, you can even target individuals by the size of their business and their job titles (level of seniority) to help you identify decision makers. You can also use HubSpot to run ads campaigns on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. HubSpot offers a couple more audience targeting features: lookalike audiences and visitors to certain pages.
A Lookalike audience consists of people who are very similar to an audience you have targeted in the past. In other words, a lookalike audience finds individuals with similar characteristics to members of an existing audience.
If you have great success with a particular audience, such as one that targets people over the age of 30 in Madison, WI who hold an executive position in their business, then you can create a lookalike audience who matches, or almost matches these criteria. You can also target people who have visited specific pages on your website, such as your “contact us” page.
The bottom line here is simple: High-tech B2B requires companies to market themselves directly to the decision-makers who hold the power to make a purchase.
While there's tons of content out there for them to absorb, it's those who create a well-researched strategy designed around communicating solutions to specific problems that ultimately attract the attention of serious buyers.
Your company may be prepared to do this themselves. However, if your in-house marketers are not SEO content experts already, developing a content strategy for the first time might be an overwhelming task.
Talk to us today about how to develop a data-driven strategy fueled by top-notch content.
Still thinking about it? Check out out our free in-house vs. agency comparison guide.