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The Essential Guide to Content Marketing: What You Need To Know To Get Started

Does the idea of combining strategy with content creation excite you? If so, content marketing poses an exciting career opportunity to merge creativity and technical abilities to provide value to an audience upfront.

Whether you’re a novice marketer or a seasoned vet exploring new specialties, this guide details the principles of content marketing and how to achieve success in this field. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to build a solid understanding of content marketing – the fundamentals, key components, history, terminology, tips, and useful resources. By the time you’re finished reading this guide, you’ll be ready to tackle your content marketing duties head on. Let’s dive in!

Content marketing 101

The premise of content marketing is simple. In order to stand out from the overbearing noise of brands competing for consumer attention, companies offer value upfront in the form of content. Creating and publishing high-quality, engaging content can be a highly effective means of attracting and retaining an audience.

Content marketing is a relatively inexpensive, sustainable form of marketing. Depending on your company’s goals, your content can be tailored to achieve a wide range of objectives. From building brand awareness and fostering trust, to generating leads and improving conversions, content marketing can drive impactful growth for your company.

Forms of content marketing

  • Websites
  • Social media
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Newsletters
  • Emails
  • Infographics
  • Paid ads
  • Ebooks
  • White papers
  • Customer testimonials

Key components

Content marketing is a continuously ongoing process. In order to be successful in this field, it’s important to integrate research, strategy, content creation, distribution, data analysis, and optimization whenever possible.

Market research and competitor analysis is an essential element of content marketing. Market research informs you about your target audience – their needs, motivations, behaviors, and preferences. Competitor analysis provides insight into your competitors’ sales, marketing, and products or services. Together, this research offers more in-depth knowledge that can be used to pivot and optimize your tactics.

Strategy is another critical aspect of content marketing. Creating content for the sake of content does little to move the needle in meaningful ways. Having a strategy in place that you can build upon will help you produce high-quality, high-value content consistently. A content marketing strategy should include your brand’s audience/buyer personas, positioning, goals, content pillars, and dedicated action plan.

Here are a handful of questions to help you develop your strategy:

  • Who are you creating content for?
  • What needs/challenges will you be addressing?
  • What sets you apart from your competitors?
  • How will your content provide value?
  • Which forms of content are best suited to your audience? Where will this content be distributed?
  • How will I measure the success of my content?

Now armed with your strategy, the next step is the cornerstone of content marketing – creating useful, relevant content. This can include written text, graphic design, and video production, among other forms. Rather than focusing on promoting your products or services, providing value through educational, empowering, entertaining, or engaging content is vital to increasing visibility and priming your audience to take specific action.

With high-quality content in hand, your next goal is to get it in front of your target audience. This can be done through a variety of channels, some of the most popular being owned media like email marketing and social media, as well as paid promotions. The goal is to reach as many people in your target audience as possible, in order to increase the visibility of your brand.

Once your content has been published, measuring and analyzing its performance is crucial for determining its success. Metrics such as website traffic, social media engagement, lead generation, and conversions can be tracked to evaluate the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy and make data-driven adjustments as needed.

A brief history of content marketing

Although content marketing may seem like a strictly modern-day practice, the art of using high-quality content to engage with customers and generate revenue can be traced back to the late 19th century.

One of the most prevalent examples of content marketing at this time was John Deere, who set out to educate customers on how to use their products effectively. As a result, the brand was able to build trust and credibility with their target audience, which remains today.

With the rise of broadcast media, companies soon incorporated the use of radio and television to reach broader audiences. This period popularized branded content, with advertisers creating shows and commercials that entertained and informed audiences while promoting their products.

The advent of the Internet and rise of digital media marked a new era for content marketing. Companies could now reach a global audience across a variety of channels, including websites, social media, and email.  Today, content marketing has become a key part of most companies marketing strategies, and businesses of all sizes are using it to educate, engage, and convert their target audience.

Terms to know

A/B Testing

Also known as “split testing.” The practice of testing slightly different versions of content among smaller groups to determine which is more performative.  A/B testing can be used to optimize landing pages, social posts, emails, and other types of content.


A link to your content from an external website. Backlinks are an important component for search engine optimization (SEO) – pages with higher volumes of backlines indicate value to search engines.

Buyer Persona

A detailed profile representing an individual within your target audience that provide insight and structure. Buyer personas can include demographics, characteristics, and behaviors, based on market research and customer data.


Writing text relating to advertisements and published content. At its core, copywriting is about using words to persuade readers to take a specific action.

Call-To-Action (CTA)

A written or visual segment of content that prompts an audience to perform an intended action. CTAs can direct users to a variety of actions, such as visiting another page, subscribing to a newsletter, or purchasing a product.

Content Segmentation

Personalizing content to meet the needs of small, specific groups, rather than trying to appeal to a generalized, broad audience.

Evergreen Content

Content that is universally relevant and valuable to an audience, regardless of when readers are exposed to it.


A word or short phrase that is used to identify content or the overall purpose of a site’s page. Keywords are important indicators for search engines to categorize content and deliver it to the appropriate users.

Lead Generation

The process of identifying prospective clients, with the goal of converting them into customers. This is achieved by acquiring prospects’ contact information and generating interest throughout a person’s customer journey. 

Owned Media

Content and distribution channels that are fully under your company’s control, such as a website, blog, email, and social media channels.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Strategies related to boosting visibility and increasing rankings on search engine results pages (SERP). The higher your content is ranked, the more likely it is to garner traffic.


  1. Focus on providing value. People are quick to recognize when they’re being marketed to. First and foremost, the bulk of your content should provide value to your audience, rather than simply promoting your products or services.
  1. Distribute your content effectively. Once you have created high-quality content, it’s important to get it in front of the right eyes. Creating a workflow that outlines how you can repurpose your content across multiple channels allows you to maximize your reach and maintain a consistent digital presence. For example, a long-from blog post can be broken down into several short-form social media posts, a newsletter, etc.  
  1. Have a deep understanding of your audience. Understanding your target audience is the foundation of any successful content marketing strategy. Conduct regular market research to identify their demographics, interests, motivations, and behaviors. Use this information to inform your strategy and create content that resonates with your target audience.
  1. Optimize for search engines. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important aspect of content marketing, as it helps your content rank higher in search engine results and gain visibility across a larger audience.
  1. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Marketing is typically a collaborative effort and content marketing is no different.  Partnering with industry authorities or other creators in your niche to collaborate on content is a great way to reach new audiences, build credibility, and cross-promote your brand.

Tools & Resources

The tools and resources used by content marketers on any given day can be extensive. Among the most popular are:

Content Creation Tools

Programs dedicated to creating visual content such as images, videos, infographics, and websites are essential for content marketers. Adobe Creative Cloud offers a robust library of programs full of customization features, but can exceed the needs of the average content marketer. Alternatively, Canva is an inexpensive substitute for creating and editing visual content.

Marketing Automation Platforms

Automation tools can be a valuable means of simplifying your content marketing efforts. Platforms like HubSpot streamline your workflow by tracking and analyzing content performance across multiple channels, in addition to completing recurring tasks.

Content Management System (CMS)

A CMS simplifies website and content management, erasing the need to know web development and coding to maintain a site. WordPress is a popular choice among content marketers due to its easy to navigate interface and affordability. Additionally, HubSpot offers expanded features relating to automation and SEO recommendations.

Social Media Management

Platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social allow you schedule and publish content across a variety of social media platforms, in addition to providing social listening, data tracking, and performance analysis features.

Analytics and reporting tools

Data and analytics-centered tools help you understand how your brand is performing and allow you to make key data-driven decisions. Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics are popular tools for tracking website traffic, while tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs offer valuable search engine optimization (SEO) features and insights, as well as competitor analysis.

It’s important to note that there are countless tools and resources at your disposal, but finding the “right” one generally comes down to personal preference. Regardless of the tools you use, staying up-to-date on industry news and trends is imperative to navigating the constantly evolving ecosystem and achieving a successful career in content marketing.

Learn more about a career in content marketing in our detailed content marketing career guide!


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