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Back to the basics on inbound content marketing

In this brief article I’m going to look at a basic content marketing tactic that can help you link the major keywords your prospects search for with the longer tail keywords you are realistically more likely to rank for.

Note: I am not advocating stupid SEO concepts like keyword stuffing (jamming as many keywords as possible, multiple times into the same piece). These attempts to game the search engine rankings are more likely to hurt your ranking, and they may, in fact get you marked as spam. Instead, I’ll cover the basics of creating a cornerstone or keystone content piece that provides useful links to other content covering more specialized subject matter.

It is important to remember that the basic goals of any content marketing approach are providing information needed to make a buying decision, demonstrating subject matter expertise, and maintaining a strong reputation for both the company and its products or services. Cornerstone content addresses all three of these goals.

‘Big’ keyword phrases

Big keywords, for lack of a better term, are search phrases that are the most commonly searched terms for a certain subject. Getting to the top of these search pages is difficult to impossible without devoting a lot of resources to them and dealing with deep-pocketed competition. As a result, many content marketers shoot for getting good results for much more specific search phrases based on specialized products or expertise. Does this mean you should give up on big keywords? For most content, generally yes. Cornerstone content is the exception.

Creating a subject matter hub

Cornerstone content is a major piece, published periodically (in my case I generally try to do one quarterly for my clients), that addresses the big keywords and then links to more targeted content across your content library. It works like this:

  • Look at the highest ranking keyword phrases in your market
  • Write a general article that walks through these phrases with one subsection for each one
  • Within these sections, write brief, direct examples of more specialized expertise that comes under that big keyword phrase
  • Within those examples link to your existing content that goes into more detail, and to external sites that provide useful definitions or insights

Why link to outside sites? Well, it is likely that search algorithms like your content better if it is connected to strong informational content from reputable sources. That’s just common sense. But remember those three content marketing goals I mentioned above? Providing information required to make a buying decision is the core reason inbound content marketing is the standard for marketing, especially B2B marketing. By providing authoritative external information resources, along with your targeted content, you fulfill that important goal and you demonstrate expertise. Let’s look at a mental map example of a complex buying decision today (as opposed to years ago when access to information required a sales contact).

Contemporary purchasing workflow

Widespread access to detailed information, documentation, reviews and star ratings, images, how-tos, videos, and more has changed the entire purchasing cycle. Where, in the past, a person tasked with doing buying research had to contact a salesperson to get enough information to assess their choices, today that contact is typically the last thing a buyer will do. And when they reach that point, 90% of their decision is made. Here’s the workflow.

Buyer side:

  • Establish need. A company or individual determines that a solution is needed for a pressing problem
  • Assign a researcher. Someone is tasked with assessing the options and reporting agnostically to management on the pros and cons of the options. In many cases they may be asked for a recommendation and to justify their choice
  • Normalize information for comparison. This puts pressure on the researcher to gather as much information as possible and to ‘normalize’ that information so it can be objectively compared across the various options. This normalized information might break down to pricing, features, ease of implementation, available options, user reviews, etc

Seller side:.

  • Build buyer personas. The marketer has to understand the type of information required and the mental process a buyer is likely going through. This may be done by constructing buyers personas or profiles and buildings scenarios to help these buyers get what they need
  • Publish useful content. The information is gathered and published in as many useful formats and locations as possible. Depending on the market, this could include blogs, websites, trade mag articles, publicity, providing open access to documentation like user manuals, maintenance manuals, etc.

Back to buyer side:

  • Make recommendations. The researcher gathers the info, normalizes it, presents it to decision-makers, may make a recommendation and they make a decision to look at 2-3 options
  • Contact sales or customer success rep. At this point, a sales process is initiated and any buyer contact is likely highly qualified, and knowledgeable.

Cornerstone content centralizes information access

If you are marketing products, your product information may be centralized in a Product Information Management (PIM) system. For services, the information is likely found in blog posts, case studies and or white papers, portfolio pieces, etc. Your cornerstone content should serve to help buyers gain access to that content from both internal and external sources.

Want to understand what a complete product information set looks like? Look at any Amazon Product Page. They have filtered search, star reviews, detailed specs, FAQs, images, comparison grids, related products and accessories, etc. All of these information elements are stored in a PIM system. This is the state of the art.

Example: A premium specialized service business in a highly competitive market

Let’s look at a recent piece I did for a client in the translation and localization services business. It highlights five specializations they work in and why a specialized provider is needed. The names of these specializations are the ranking keyword (big) phrases for each, for obvious reasons. They include:

  • Market Research Translation
  • Software Translation
  • eLearning Translation
  • Manufacturing Translation
  • Life Sciences Translation

Each subhead references these phrases in a valid context and each accompanying text section goes into specific detail. Within these sections, phrases are linked to more detailed content, both internal and external. External links may reference definitions, wiki content, articles by subject matter experts, reference to specialized tools, etc. Internal links may go to relevant areas of the website, videos and slide decks, webinars, blog posts, etc.

Other attributes of this article that are relevant to it being cornerstone content:

  • Length. At 1400 words this piece is substantive and authoritative
  • Links. More numerous than I would normally recommend but it is a hub for access to more specific subjects
  • Focus Keyphrase. The ‘big’ keyword is ‘translation’. You can’t get any more broad than this.
  • Title. It is provocative and asks a question any buyer should be asking themselves.

In conclusion

Publishing a quarterly cornerstone content piece, or refreshing an existing one with new links and updates, should be on your content calendar. If you’d like an assessment of your content library or creation of a cornerstone content strategy I can help. You can’t start a content strategy with cornerstone content- you need a library of targeted content to reference in the cornerstone piece. This assessment will tell you whether your content is actually useful and helps you, and your prospects, understand the context of your overall content. It also gives you a general tool to share with all contacts both within and outside your company. Very often, customers who know you for one expertise may not be aware of others!


Note: I am not embedding a lot of links in this article, but if I did it could easily serve as a cornerstone content piece for an inbound marketing practice. This may change!

More on cornerstone content: