What Is Content Marketing? Your Complete 2023 Guide | Semrush
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What Is Content Marketing? Your Complete 2023 Guide

Margarita LoktionovaFeb 21, 202323 min read

Content marketing is an exciting field. It covers SEO, social media, video, blogging, events, and lots more.

It provides many benefits for your business, helping you grow your number of website visitors, drive qualified leads, and improve your brand image.

This ultimate content marketing guide is full of inspiring examples and practical advice.

It will help you better understand the principles of content marketing and start applying them to real life.

Let’s dive in for a whole range of actionable tips!

What Is Content Marketing?

What Is Content Marketing?

Let’s talk about what content marketing means for businesses like yours, how it relates to other marketing fields, and what function content marketers perform.

Content Marketing Definition

Content marketing is a type of marketing that attracts customers by sharing valuable and relevant information. It involves creating and sharing content that solves your audience’s problems and answers their questions.

When done right, content marketing helps your business grow by generating awareness and sales.

Small and medium business (SMB) content marketing

SMBs engage in content marketing to connect with their local community and wider online audiences.

By focusing carefully on the content that brings the best results for them, they can lower their advertising costs.

Smaller businesses can compete with big-name brands. Content quality is what counts. Well-produced, valuable content and a strong brand story can help you get noticed.

How Content Marketing Connects to Your Business

Online content marketing is like the fuel that powers all other areas of marketing in your business. This includes social media, advertising, public relations, and more.

Let’s take a look at how that works:

SEO and content marketing

No marketer wants to pay for every single site visitor; it’s expensive! SEO (search engine optimization) helps you connect with your audience organically and directly through search results.

It means you can potentially generate traffic for years to come without spending any additional money and resources.

So, it’s super important to keep SEO in mind when planning website content marketing.

Social media marketing and content marketing

There’s no getting away from it: TikTok, Instagram, Twitter Mastodon, YouTube, and all the usual suspects are going to form a significant part of your marketing plan.

But how does social media relate to content marketing?

Principally, for businesses, social media channels offer a way to build communities around a shared interest. That interest might be your brand or a hobby, for example.

Social sites are therefore an excellent place to distribute your content. From there, you can drive traffic to your website.

At the same time, these channels allow you to run ads. You can also experiment with content types, speaking directly to your clients and potential customers.

Advertising and content marketing

Content marketing is a dynamic teacher, full of information and encouragement. Advertising, on the other hand, is the creative cousin, always rushing to get your attention with flashy ideas.

Content marketing aims to build a loyal audience and lay the groundwork for conversions. Advertising, in contrast, tries to catch the audience at their moment of greatest need. It points them directly toward the product or service in a promotional way.

One of the biggest differences to note is that content marketing is inbound. It pulls people into your website, blog, and content.

Advertising, however, is outbound. It pushes your message to your target audience.

In many cases, you will actually run ads to promote your content, too. This is a great way to get lots of eyes on your website. In other words, content also feeds your advertising machine!

Other areas fueled by content marketing:

  • Demand generation: By growing your authority and creating interest in your content, you can generate leads. Content that brings lots of visitors to your website also brings lots of potential conversions.
  • PR: Original research, events, and thought leadership can all help you feature in the media. Tell an interesting story, and you can make a noise—it doesn’t matter how big your business is.
  • Sales: Content can also support sales through explanations that quickly answer the customer’s doubts and reduce the time to purchase.

What Do Content Marketers Do?

Content marketers plan and create educational content. Their aim is to generate engagement, get more website visitors, and create helpful marketing tools like mailing lists.

They are responsible for strategy, production, tracking, and optimization.

Really, the aim of a content marketer is to build a community and generate qualified marketing leads.

What Skills Do Content Marketers Need?

If you're looking to hire a content marketer, search for people with these skills:

Strategy: The skill of designing a direction for marketing that helps meet your business objectives.

Research: The ability to dig into the data and find insights about your audience, content topics, and competitors.

Planning: Strong planning skills that ensure a range of content types is created, as well as the ability to create in batches and publish to a regular schedule.

Project management: The skill of coordinating multiple team members and ensuring briefs are delivered and deadlines are met.

Auditing: The ability to review and analyze past content and competitor content. The aim is to spot strengths and weaknesses, gaps in your content, and areas to improve on.

Writing and editing: Writing and editing skills are also in high demand. With oodles of copy, blogs, and guides required, a top content marketer should be able to produce well-written content themselves.

Video/Audio production: Video content and podcasts are in high demand. The perfect content marketer should also have video and audio content production skills.

SEO: Last, but certainly not least, content marketers should have an understanding of search engine optimization (SEO). They should also be able to put it into practice in a variety of media. This might include blogs, product descriptions, websites, video descriptions, etc.

7 Benefits of Content Marketing for Businesses

7 Benefits of Content Marketing for Businesses

1. Attract and Grow Organic Traffic

Effective content marketing can help you connect with your target audience through social media, search, email, and other channels.

Organic traffic is especially important because the people you attract with your content genuinely need your help. They come to you with a question, challenge, or need. You are right there to help with information or a product and service.

For small businesses especially, it can bring visitors to your website, blog, or product pages. But most importantly, you don’t have to pay for their presence.

Content marketing can help you compete with much bigger companies without having to spend thousands or even millions on Google ads.

Let’s look at a real-life example. Sleep.me is a company offering patented active cooling and warming sleep systems.

After revamping their content strategy, they managed to increase organic traffic by 2,959% and rank for 11,162% more keywords in just 12 months.

Content marketing strategy example

Learn more about this success story here.

2. Build Your Brand

Content marketing helps small businesses tell their stories and connect with the right audiences.

A well-defined brand voice is like a personality that shines through your content. This makes it super important that your message is always clear and consistent. You should also establish the right tone in your writing.

Small businesses, startups, and other organizations with smaller budgets can use content marketing to tell their story and build a community. This is true even if they're in a small niche.

Cassey Ho started on YouTube as a Pilates instructor in 2009. She then grew her Blogilates channel organically to 7.2M subscribers on YouTube and 2.3M on Instagram.

How? By being a relatable and positive role model and engaging her community.

Content marketing example - Blogilates

She is now a multi-millionaire, having founded a successful luxury activewear brand, Popflex. It is also sold in Target stores across the U.S.

3. Engage Emotions

Businesses can seem cold and difficult to deal with. But you could wash away these perceptions by using content that puts a human face to your brand.

This engages positive emotions and lets people connect with you on a more personal level. Overall, it helps show your brand as being trustworthy and credible.

This approach is particularly effective on social media where team members can show their faces on video, live streams, and images.

4. Find More Customers

When it comes to buying something online or contracting a service, people take their time. They go on what’s known as a “buyer’s journey.” This is where they search for, discover, and then choose solutions.

There are multiple opportunities to engage with these consumers by providing well-considered and valuable information that answers their questions.

A website visitor is more likely to become a customer if they have been guided and informed by you.

TheSmokies.com is a website that shares information on regional travel in East Tennessee. It was first built in 2020 by James and Morgan Overholt and Alaina O’Neal, all from Tennessee.

By consistently blogging about activities, lodging, restaurants, and special discounts, TheSmokies.com successfully guides potential customers through the buyer’s journey.

This allows consumers a “one-stop shop” to thoughtfully research and plan a vacation to the Smoky Mountains through one website.

The blog got over 5 million pageviews and more than $200,000 in revenue in 2021.

Content marketing example - The Smokies

5. Establish Expertise, Authority, and Trust

Content marketing lets you share insights, research, and knowledge. It helps set the stage for your business, establishing your status as a thought leader or go-to resource.

When you establish trust and credibility, people are also more likely to see you as a valuable service provider.

Search engines like Google also see experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EEAT) as strong signals that your content is worth ranking.

6. Boost Your PR Efforts

Believe it or not, your content can be newsworthy, too. Journalists often use research to inform articles and write about the future of certain industries.

A well-researched white paper (a resource with original research or expertise), for example, can lead to press.

It can also encourage people to link to your website from theirs, boosting your SEO in the process.

7. Improve Your Product and Spot Opportunities

Sharing content on social media can lead to likes, shares, and comments. You’ll develop a better understanding of your audience, and it can help give direction for future content.

Also, if you pay attention to reviews or criticism, you’ll spot ways to improve your product. You might even discover new market opportunities for your company.

How Codex Advokat Benefitted from Content Marketing

Codex Advokat, a Norwegian law firm, trained its staff in SEO. As a result, it grew organic traffic by 600% in just 14 months.

We love how the firm had a plan, steadfastly carried it out, and ultimately saw incredible results and return on investment.

Codex Advokat aimed to boost website traffic through rebranding and launching a blog that was fully optimized for search engines.

In total, the firm produced an impressive 500 SEO blogs on relevant legal topics. These were published in stages.

After testing and optimization, traffic increased with a weekly average of +170% YoY. The website is up to 20% visibility for 688 keywords. Also, more than half of the monitored keywords rank somewhere on page 1 of the search results.

Content marketing example - Codex Advokat
Types of Content Marketing

Types of Content Marketing

Content marketing might be making you dizzy. After all, there are so many different content types out there.

The good news is that you don’t have to do it all.

In fact, it’s better to focus on incorporating content formats that help your customers the most. Your understanding of your audience and market will help you decide on what type of content to produce.

For example, if you have a skincare product, go for visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok. You could also make use of a blog to give more in-depth guides.

In our latest research, we discovered the top five performing content formats were:

  • Video (45% of our survey respondents said this was a top-performing content type)
  • Short-form articles (31%)
  • Success stories (28%)
  • Long-form blog posts (23.5%)
  • Case studies (19%)

Let’s have a look at these and some other content types. We’ll include some tips and content marketing best practices, too.

Video Content Marketing

It’s hardly surprising that video is such an important content format. From long-form YouTube videos to snappy TikTok shorts, video has never been a more versatile medium for marketers.

Both brands and influencers can use video to demonstrate their products.


  • Makes your company seem more human: A personality can really attract a new following
  • Is easy to consume: Viewers don’t have to read or download anything—video is simple and engaging
  • Is shareable: Video content is super easy to share

Gymshark is a great example of how an ecommerce brand uses TikTok to generate views and followers. It utilizes influencers and other creators who use popular hashtags and initiate challenges.

Content marketing example - Gymshark

Gymshark has amassed over 4 million followers, posts consistently (every day), and is reaping the rewards!

Blog Posts

Short-form and long-form articles both made it into the top five content formats. Again, like video, articles are super versatile and have lots of benefits:

Here’s an example of a well-executed blog from Buffer, the social media scheduling platform:

Buffer understands its B2B audience from the inside-out.

It leads with topical content, “A Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon.” This does a great job of answering the most pressing questions of the moment.

With Twitter in turmoil (at the time of writing), all eyes are on possible alternatives. Mastodon has been the talk of the town, but very few really understand how it works. So top marks to Buffer for a well-angled guide.

Content marketing example - Mastodon

Read more blogging tips here.

Ebooks and White Papers

Like blogs, ebooks and white papers can do deep dives into a topic of interest. They can also share original research and offer unique thoughts. These can be gated (to collect emails) or ungated (free to view).

Here’s an example:

The Practical Guide to Efficient and Effective Selling by Drift is an actionable guide for business owners and entrepreneurs. It aims to help them improve their sales techniques.

It grabs attention because it has a very clear value proposition. You know exactly what to expect and what the outcome will be. The addition of the blurb further defines the offering. It explains that it will focus on building a “quality pipeline” through “conversational sales.”

Content marketing example - Drift


Podcasts are a unique content format. They help people see behind the curtain and really get to know the people behind the brand. At the same time, they help you establish presence and share stories, insights, and even product features.

This content format is unique because it doesn’t require your audience's full attention. For consumers, podcasts are super versatile. They are great to listen to during the drive home, while working, cleaning the house, or even at the gym!

If you do a good job, your podcast could become part of someone’s routine.

If you want to get started, listen to lots of podcasts. This will help you understand what works and what does not work so well. It will also help you settle on a style for your own content.

We love the BizChix podcast. Natalie Eckdahl, Business Strategist and Coach, has produced 550 episodes and counting. Her content is aimed at female entrepreneurs and women in small business.

With a 4.9 rating on Apple Podcasts, this presenter certainly knows which topics resonate with her audience.

Content marketing example - The BizChix

Social Media and User-Generated Content (UGC)

As we’ve already covered, it makes sense for brands to engage their communities through social media. This is especially true if they are in the B2C space.

But once again, the key is to avoid spreading your resources too thinly. Don’t try to be on every social media channel out there.

Lots of brands encourage their fans and followers to create their own content, answer questions, and add comments to their posts.

It works well because your followers feel a sense of ownership and it deepens your relationship with them. At the same time, you’ll have more content to share, with a lot less effort.

While only an aspirational example for small businesses, there is a lot to learn from the success of GoPro’s UGC (user generated content) campaigns. With its Million Dollar Challenge, Photo of the Day Challenge, and Anything Awesome Challenge, GoPro inspires hundreds of thousands of people to create content.

For example, in the Million Dollar Challenge, users can win a serious amount of money if they are featured in the company's end-of-year reel. They are simply required to upload footage and follow the rules.

Content marketing example - Redbull 

Our takeaways here are that the company makes it simple, offers an incentive, and follows through on its promises.

Content marketing example - Redbull 

When carrying out your own UGC campaigns, make sure to choose the channels that your audience hangs out on and optimize your content for each channel. If you’re using a design platform like Canva, you have lots of templates to help with this.

Influencer Marketing

People with large, engaged audiences often get described as being “influencers.” Influencers can help you tap into their networks and break down barriers to trust.

Choose your influencers wisely and you may see more followers, engagement, qualified leads, and sales for your brand.

Big audiences don’t always mean high engagement. Be sure your influencers of choice are able to really connect with their followers. This audience must also have an interest in your niche.

Ask for their engagement stats and past successes in working with other brands.

Infographics and Checklists

Infographics and checklists are highly visual, valuable tools for business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) brands. They get information across to the audience in a quick, pleasing way.

You can use both of these content formats in a number of ways:

  • On social media to generate shares, click-throughs, and comments with infographics that resonate with your audience
  • As gated content where you offer the resource in exchange for an email, which you can use to build a targeted mailing list of potential customers
  • Or as linkbait. There’s no question, great infographics get shared. When including original infographics on your blog, be sure to include a logo and ask people to credit you with a link back to your article.

German bike search engine The Cycleverse was launched in December 2020. It has some great infographic examples:

Content marketing example - The Cycleverse

They make use of simple comparative infographics on their Instagram account. It helps them drive traffic to their website via the Linktree in the account’s bio.

The amount of likes ranges between 100 and 300 on these infographics. That’s an impressive amount of engagement for an account that has fewer than 1,000 followers.

3 Content Marketing Examples for Your Inspiration

3 Content Marketing Examples for Your Inspiration

To further explore the topic of content creation, have a look at three content marketing examples to learn from in 2023:

1. Flowrite

Through a combination of consistent SEO and content marketing, AI startup Flowrite generates over 120K organic monthly views.

Content marketing example - Flowrite 

With topical, optimized content like the following post on AI tools, the marketing team really knows what their audience wants.

This blog post offers a great reader experience with its interactive table of contents, visuals, and an easy-to-follow structure.

Content marketing example - Flowrite 

Flowrite also combines content with compelling calls to action. In this case, the reader is presented with a timed pop-up that asks them to sign up for a trial.

Content marketing example - Flowrite 

2. Restream

This email from Restream does a great job at creating a sense of urgency (a classic copywriting technique).

This encourages people to pull the trigger and actually convert—as they know they can’t put it off till later!

Content marketing example - Restream 

3. Monday Video

This bottom-of-the-funnel explainer video from Monday does a great job of showing the audience all the key details in under a minute.

It’s concise, clear and effective—and a great model for anyone wanting to create something similar.

How To Create a Content Marketing Strategy

How To Create a Content Marketing Strategy

Before you go all-in and start creating content, you need insights, directions, and goals.

Start by listing some of the fundamentals of what's going to become your content marketing strategy. This will help you better plan and build an effective content marketing strategy.

Step One: Define Your Audience

It doesn’t matter how great your content is; if you don’t have a defined audience, you won’t achieve what you need to.

Your first step is to understand who you are talking to. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How old are your target customers?
  • Where are they located?
  • What are their favorite social media channels?
  • What are their objectives, challenges, or needs?
  • How and why do they use your product or service?

You’ll probably have different types of customers, so make sure you build a profile for each one.

The good news is that you can learn more about your target audience in a number of ways:

  • Through customer interviews
  • At conferences or events
  • Through demographic profiles and psychographics provided by Google Analytics and Social Media Analytics
  • Via surveys and questions
  • From Quora, Reddit, Facebook, and LinkedIn groups and other social media channels
  • From reviews, brand interactions, and frequently asked questions
  • From team knowledge—what your sales or customer care team can tell you

You can use the free Semrush buyer persona template and builder to create profiles of your customers.

But you will need to be sure that they are accurate. Invented buyer personas don’t work well and may even lead your marketing efforts astray.

For more ideas, see these five buyer personas that go beyond the basics.

Step Two: Competitive Content Analysis

A competitor analysis looks at what your rivals are doing well and not so well.

Make sure to analyze your competitors' content marketing to better understand what's working in your niche.

At the same time, never copy your competitors. It’s important you stick to your unique brand voice and personality.

One main phase of a successful competitive analysis includes looking at your competitors.

Use industry knowledge to list your competitors. Check out the organic search results and ads to see which brands appear alongside yours. Look at:

  • What content they are producing
  • Where they have content and you don’t
  • What seems to be getting engagement on social media

For more detailed steps and tools to help you carry out a competitor analysis, check out this guide to competitor research.

Step Three: Establish Your Content Marketing Goals

Content marketing without objectives is like a road trip without a destination. You’ll keep driving until you run out of gas.

The simplest way to keep yourself accountable is to set a number of content marketing goals. Alongside bringing organic visitors, your content marketing efforts should also lead to revenue.


  • The resources you will require
  • The budget you have to spend
  • The return on investment you’ll need to achieve
  • How your competitors are performing

Be sure to put this in writing; documented goals keep teams on track.

Here’s an example:

Primary goal (SMART)How to implementBy whenMetricResults
Build a lead nurture email list of at least 300 peopleWebinar campaign: How to improve your makeup skills—seriesEnd of the first quarterWebinar signups (min 300)

Active email subscribers (min 200)


Step Four: Design Your Content Funnel

content marketing funnel is a framework. It helps you make sure your content matches up with the audience needs and your own business objectives.

There are three main parts to it. And for each part, you’ll have to consider what your audience is looking for:

1. Attract new readers

Customers are rarely ready to buy from you when they are only just learning about the solutions.

That usually means your content should be hyper-focused on providing value, and not on being promotional.

In this stage, your audience is aware it has a problem or challenge. It’s asking broad questions and needs help with the basics.

For example, they might use a search term like:

“How to redecorate my home in style”

2. Educate your audience

In the next stage, your customers are becoming aware of the solutions available to them.

Your content can start to reflect those solutions by sharing resources, benefits, and other useful information related to your offerings.

A search term might look something like this:

“The best hand-painted wallpapers for my studio apartment”

3. Help them become customers

At this stage of the funnel, your potential customers are much closer to conversion. Here’s where content starts to be more promotional, highlight specific features and use-cases, and offer product demos (if appropriate).

A search term might look like:

“Off-season discount wallpaper”

Step Five: Develop an Editorial Plan and Content Calendar

With everything above in place, it’s time to develop an editorial plan and content calendar. And that begins by finding relevant topics.

A topic is relevant if it a) connects with your business offering and b) resonates with your target audience. If a topic or idea fails to do either of these, it should be discounted.

Once you’ve decided which topics you’re going to tackle, try to organize them into clusters.

This will make site navigation easier and will help you cover areas in-depth, which is good for your SEO.

Other important things to consider when making your plan:

Resources: You’ll need to know who you are working with. Do you plan to create content in-house?

If so, you’ll need lots of time and focus. Or do you expect to work with freelancers? In the latter case, you’ll need to have a decent budget for content.

Budget: Be sure to know how much you can spend on content from the outset. Keep your plans aligned to costs, or you won’t be able to produce what you need.

Timelines: Alongside costs, be sure to include realistic time frames. Creating great content can take longer than you think.

Step Six: Measure Content Success

The only way to measure the success of a campaign is by tracking how well your content performs against the goals you have set. Here are some common metrics you can use to assess and optimize your content:

  • Social media engagement 
    This shows how well each post performs and gives an idea of what your audience wants to see and interact with. 

    For example, you can look at views, clicks, shares, and comments on your social media posts.
  • Online mentions
    Mentions are simply when people name your company online. It’s a good indicator of brand awareness or a successful marketing campaign. But be sure to dig in a bit further and see the sentiment of these mentions. Are they positive, negative, or neutral?

    For instance, you can analyze if an industry report you’ve just published has been featured by media or thought leaders.
  • Social media or blog shares
    Sharing is caring. The more shares a piece of content gets, the more people like it and the greater its reach. Higher shares show you’re doing something right.
  • Subscribers
    Subscribers are people who are taking a real interest in your brand. They represent future clients or advocates. By building a mailing list or community, you are investing in your future sales.
  • Traffic
    This refers to the number of people visiting your blog, website, or landing page.

    Ultimately, you want people to come to your owned channels so you can sell your products and services. Google Analytics can help you understand the numbers and show you where your traffic is coming from.
  • Ranking
    Ranking refers to your position in the search results for any given keyword. The higher you rank, the more traffic you get—generally. Semrush Position Tracking can help you monitor this metric.
  • Backlinks
    Backlinks are links from other websites to your website or blog. Links from reputable websites are considered to be a positive ranking factor and also show that other people see your content as valuable.
  • Open rate
    Open rate is an email marketing metric. It lets you know how effective your subject lines are at encouraging people to read your content.
  • Click-through rate
    Your click-through rate (CTR) is simply the percentage of people who click on a link you have presented to them. It can show you how effective your calls to action are and how valuable your content offer is.
  • Conversion rate
    Conversions can refer to sales or any positive action you want your customers to take (download, sign up, send a message, etc.). Conversion-oriented landing pages, social and search ads, and bottom of the funnel articles may all have a conversion goal.

Pro tip: Try ContentShake AI to boost your content marketing

Looking to grow your website with content marketing but not sure where to start?

Adding AI content to your strategy can give you a massive competitive boost. 

Modern writing tools like ContentShake AI  generate SEO-rich, ready-to-rank content in one click and help you get better results faster.

Here’s how it works:

  • Enter details about your business
  • Get relevant and trending content ideas
  • Create ready-to-rank content in one click
  • Generate social media posts to promote it
  • Publish directly to your blog
Best Practices for Content Marketing in 2023

Best Practices for Content Marketing in 2023

To wrap things up, our top tips for successful content marketing in 2023 are:

1. Focus on the audience research

Once you know your audience inside-out, everything else will fall into place. By solving their pain points and offering valuable or practical content, you`ll build a community.

2. Make content human and conversational

Put a face to your brand and connect with your audience on a personal level. By engaging with their emotions in a positive way, you`ll establish trust, confidence, and warm feelings for your brand.

3. Make content unique, and integrate real experiences and data

In the noisy world of content, be sure to aim for original content and insights. Really, it’s the only way to make your brand stand out. Interviews, success stories, and case studies all add originality and credibility to your brand.

4. Experiment with formats

There are so many different content types to choose from. Experiment and see which are the most effective. Drop content that doesn’t resonate, and double-down on the things that work well. Also take into account what’s most fun to create for your team. The more interesting you find the process, the more this will shine through in the final product.

5. Analytics and analyzing content performance

Don’t skip the analytics. This is key to understanding which content works and which is falling flat. If you aim to improve your results by increments each production cycle, it will pay dividends in the near future.

That’s a wrap. You have all the knowledge and examples you need to get started with your own content marketing plan. Be sure to try new things and—above all—be brave. Your content needs to stand out.

Create ready-to-rank content in one click!

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GoodContent by Semrush is your ultimate resource for small business content marketing. Discover valuable guides, templates, research, and free AI-driven tools to support you at every step of your journey.

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