How to Generate MSP Leads with Content Marketing
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Small and midsized MSPs, VARs, and technology consulting firms need new business to keep growing.
While “marketing” may feel unserious to engineers who tend to seek precision and objectivity in their daily work, it's a proven way to develop new business.
Content marketing in particular is a powerful method of generating new leads online, without having to become one of “those slick marketing guys.”
The goal of this guidebook is to provide leaders in the IT channel a concise guide to the digital marketing tactics they can use to achieve stronger lead generation results and hit their business growth targets.
Table of Contents
What kind of content should I create?
What is Content Marketing and Why Should I Care?
Content marketing is the art of creating informative articles, blogs, white papers, case studies and other forms of media to build visibility, trust, and authority with prospects. When done properly, it allows prospects to engage with your brand organically at every stage of the complex IT services buying journey.
There are five distinct stages of the content marketing process:
What do you want to achieve with your content marketing effort, and what steps will you take to achieve those goals? Leveraging local media, online blogs and magazines, and members of the local business community is crucial to maximizing the impact of your content.
Of course, you must make sure that throughout the content marketing process you've observed search engine optimization (SEO) best practices, so that your business builds the long-term lead generation engine it needs.
Why Content Marketing and SEO Beat Outbound Marketing
Traditional "outbound" sales or marketing efforts, such as cold calling, email outreach, and advertising can certainly generate leads for salespeople, but there are good reasons why 88% percent of B2B marketers now rely content marketing, while those older approaches are on the decline.
Content marketing aligns with the B2B buyer journey Today, most B2B purchases are made after extensive online research. According to Backlinko, most people are engaging with 13 pieces of online marketing content before picking up the phone to speak with salespeople. Companies who meet prospects along the first half of their journey will capture more business than those who don't.
Content marketing drives higher conversion rates While content marketing involves a sustained investment in time and money, and months of lead time to start getting the engine going, the statistics are undeniable. 70% of customers would rather learn about a company through content marketing than advertising, while the number of people who contact a company based on online interactions is 6X higher for content marketing adopters.
Content marketing is extremely cost effective It could take anywhere from six to 18 months to get a content marketing and local SEO campaign up to speed, but once it does, the costs involved in making ongoing optimizations and improvements are minor, especially when compared to outbound marketing methods. Over the long term, you can expect content marketing to cost about 62% less than traditional marketing, while generating 3 times the number of leads.
MSPs, VARs, and technology consultants are excellent candidates for content marketing. As a regional business, your company is competing for search engine real estate in a particular market.
Outside of Los Angeles and New York City, where competition for SEO space is fierce, markets are less competitive, which means you can capture valuable search engine visibility with relatively less effort.
Optimize Your Website for Content Marketing Success
Before you can do anything, you need to understand your audience and competition. We recommend at a minimum investing in some SEO software like Ahrefs or Semrush to help you understand your market and competitors.
If you don’t want to make that investment, there are several free alternatives like Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest that can provide many of the same insights.
These are some of the important questions you’ll want to answer early on:
Does my website feel ready to support my content marketing efforts?
Are there technical issues that might impact my marketing outcomes?
How does my messaging stack up against my competitors?
What would I consider a conversion on my website?
What path would a visitor take to that conversion on my website?
If the messaging on your website
Simplify your menu structure Users and Google both hate websites that are unnecessarily complex. If your menu structure requires that users need to click more than two times to get to the information they want, then you’re probably running into trouble. Did you know that 61% of visitors leave a website because it's hard to navigate?
Keep URLs short and keyword rich Take the time to make sure your URLs align with your SEO goals. For example, If you’re a managed IT services provider, then make sure that your main service pages are structured in like www.yourdomain.com/managed-it-services. Having keywords in the URL of your page provides a tiny little SEO bump and makes your website more logical to navigate.
Minimize load times Images are a critical part of the online experience. By making content more attractive and helping guide people toward the most important information on a page, images play a key role in any content marketing effort. But you can overdo them too! If your website is loading too slowly, then you’ll get penalized by Google and harm your overall content marketing effort.
Refine Your Website Messaging with Copywriting Best Practices Remember the adage about dressing for the job you want and not the job you have? Well, that applies to your website too! Your website shouldn’t just reflect where your business is now, it should be designed to attract the types of clients you want to be servicing.
This is especially important for companies in the technology industry, where the assumption of complete IT fluency is assumed. Why would an IT firm have a crappy website? If you can’t build a decent website, what are the chances you can manage a network?
Here are some more tips for optimizing your website
Develop a clean and professional visual style
Satisfy the intent of your prospects and visitors
Provide clear calls to action (CTAs) so users can easily interact with your content
Prominently feature in-depth information so visitors can see your expertise
How to Write Better Website Headlines Attractive headlines are a vitally important element in any type of marketing material, and website headlines are no exception. The importance of a good headline can’t be understated as creative, exciting, eye-catching headline has the power to stay in a prospects mind long after a prospect has stopped reading.
Here are some guidelines from copywriter Michael Masterson that provide a good starting point. Are your
Uniqueness Even if it’s in some small way, try to find some way in which your product or service is different than the competition.
Usefulness Content in this day in age should be useful. It’s what’s going to keep them reading past the headline and down through the body copy.
Ultra-Specificity Be as precise as possible about the ways in which you’re being useful. Generalities are a dime a dozen. Can you anticipate your customer’s specific pain points?
Urgency Can you give your prospective customer a reason to embrace your services or solutions now? Cybersecurity marketers have
Regardless of whose guidelines you choose to follow, what’s important is that all headlines should be written with your client’s needs in mind. Resist the urge to talk about what you can do, but emphasis instead ho you can solve their problems. We’ll discuss this idea in greater depth below.
Keyword Research and Content Planning
Now that your website is optimized, it’s time to start creating content.
Not quite. First you have to understand what topics your prospects are researching online and develop a strategy for appearing in those searches. .
Keyword research is where you analyze the search terms related to your business that people in your area are looking for. There are scores of tools on the Internet for keyword research, including Ahrefs, SEMRush, Moz, and others. While each of those tools varies slightly in the functionality, they all revolve around some of the same important functionality and metrics:
Keyword difficulty This measures how hard it will be to rank a website for this keyword. In this case, a 30 isn’t so bad, especially if the local competition is weak. The keyword difficulty is calculated by measuring the content of the page, the searcher intent, links from other website, and the overall domain authority. If you’d like, you can keep reading on how Ahrefs calculates keyword authority here.
Keyword intent Each Google search (and each search engine result page, or SERP) is designed to meet a searcher’s intent. Typically, search intent falls into one of four categories: commercial, informational, or navigational, or transactional. If a person searches for “IBM Corporate Website,” then they’re obviously looking for a specific website, which means it’s a navigational search. Commercial searches are any query that are related to making a purchase, for example “best ice cream shop near me”, "IT support providers in New York." Finally, informational searches are any search with the intent to learn more. This broad category includes “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why.” searches.
Cost per click (CPC) This metric tells you how much it costs for a single click from Google ad words for this keyword, but it’s also a valuable barometer of the commercial value of a keyword, which is useful information to have when you’re planning a keyword strategy. The higher the CPC rate, the more conversions that Google has tracked to that keyword.
Those are just some of the metrics that you can use to start prioritizing keywords.
Next, you'll need to look at metrics for each keyword. Your experience in the IT services will help you determine which topics you should prioritize and how to implement them into your overall content marketing strategy.
Most keyword research tools will have a dashboard of tools for helping your drill down further into all the keywords related to your initial search.
Once you have a long list of topics, how do you organize them? The answer to cluster them. A topic cluster is a group of content that covers a broad subject area, while being thematically tied to a single keyword or topic that’s important to your business.
For example, imagine that your company is launching a managed security services offering, and wants to improve its local visibility for “managed security service provider” in your area. Here's how you could start developing content and visibility on that topic.
Analyze the search engine results pages for related topics
Identify informational searches in your area related to security
Develop content that mirrors how people are searching for that information
Here’s what a topic cluster for that topic might look
Note: This is a bare bones example of the content planning. You may find that building content out around the keywords like “ransomware” or “cybersecurity services” is a better fit for your company, based on the keyword data and local competition.
The main reason that topic clusters are so important is that it enables strong internal linking between pages on your site.
Strong internal links are an effective way to provide a more intuitive and exciting user experience to your site’s visitors. Google also use internal links and related anchor text (the words in blue that indicates a hyperlink) to understand better understand the structure your site, which provides added fuel to your SEO efforts.
Going Beyond Keywords in Your SEO Strategy Is SEO-led content marketing that simple? No, there are a myriad other factors that you want to take into consideration when determining how you’re going to approach an organic search strategy and content. Here are some of the most important:
How your competitors are approaching those topics and what content already exists
The backlink profile of each of your competitors and your current domain authority
So-called “barnacle SEO” opportunities for sites like Clutch and UpCity
The health of your Google My Business profile and local reviews
While SEO is critical, it should never be the driving force behind your content marketing campaign. The first goal should always be on producing high-value content that will provoke your buyers to take action. Search is just one channel through which they locate your content.
SEO is an important a B2B content marketing tactic, but don't let SEO alone guide your content efforts.
Read our dive into the B2B content marketing process
What Type of Content Gets B2B Marketing Results?
So, now you have an optimized website, a good sense of what keywords you should be targeting, what the competition is doing, now you can start to plan the content marketing tactics that will get you where you want to go.
It’s important to distinguish between the idea of a content market strategy and tactic. A strategy is a high-level view of the goals that you hope to achieve with your content marketing, while a tactic is the specific actions that you’re going to take to achieve those goals.
In terms of B2B content marketing, there are a few tried and true strategies that work well, year after year.
Blogs and articles
The heart and soul of any content marketing effort is the blog. The reason is that a blog is the best venue for regularly posting original content onto your website, which allows you to build personal engagement between your executives and prospects, educate your audience about the most interesting and pressing new developments, and stay in regular contact.
A blog writing strategy must be consistent to be successful.
If your budget only allows for a few posts every month, which may be adequate for most growing MSPs in less competitive markets, then concentrate on producing high quality work every month, so that your audience grows accustomed to seeing your posts on social media talking about the issues that matter the most to them.
Here are some tips on writing an effective B2B blog post:
Always be strategic Approach each blog post with purpose in mind. Are you trying to generate SEO traction only, or is a thought leadership piece that you want to promote to decision makers in a target field? If it's an SEO oriented piece, where does it fit into the current SERP? Do you have a sense of which keywords you want to target, beyond just the primary keyword? In any case, start with a clear sense of where it fits into your overall strategy before you start writing.
Follow SEO best practices General SEO guidelines for every post dictate that you should be striving to use your target keyword at least 3 - 10 times per 1000 words, as appropriate. Break up the flow of text liberally using H2 and H3 tags, and include at least 3 – 4 external links to authoritative news sources, as well as providing 3 – 4 internal links to your own pages.
Want to learn more, keep reading our definitive guide to writing B2B blog posts below
White Papers and Lead Magnets
Long-form content, including white papers and eBooks are B2B marketing workhorses, boosting a company’s visibility, establishing them as experts in their field, and helping them capture contact information from interested prospects.
According to an IT buying study by Forbes, 68% of respondents contacted a vendor or reseller after reading a white paper, while another study found that 71% of respondents referred to a white paper during a B2B buying decision.
Companies use the modern marketing white paper and eBooks to generally accomplish accomplishes three goals:
Show why a business problem must be solved
Explore the ways to solve a business problem
Provide a reader with the knowledge to choose an optimal solution
As with any other types of marketing content, the goal of writing a white paper should always be to educate your client on a topic, not on selling them anything. By establishing yourself as an impartial authority, you win the respect of potential clients and draw them into your sales funnel without having to persuade them of anything right away. The selling can come later.
As with all marketing collateral, a white paper must be written in a clean, straightforward, yet engaging style to maximize its impact and usefulness as a piece of marketing collateral.
Complex Ideas, Simple Language Do your best to break down complex concepts into simple ideas that your readers can understand quickly. Write in language that they won’t just understand, but in a way that resonates and helps them understand how your services will help their business.
Find the Right Format Just because it looks like a white paper and reads like a white paper, doesn’t mean it has to be called a white paper. Even in the realm of IT services procurement, you are writing the paper to attract eyeballs, so call it a guide, a handbook, a special report, or something else. Who is your audience, and which marketing channels are they active on? Digging deep into your buyer personas may help you find the right format.
Start on a Strong Note You need to create a powerful introduction to hook the reader into following your through what may be more 8-10 pages of dense, technical exposition. Although the body should also be written with readability in mind, it’s imperative that the paper start in a way that it drives at the problem and grabs your reader’s attention right away.
Remember: 3-30-3 According to celebrated white paper copywriter Michael Stelzner, you have three seconds to grab your reader’s attention, you have 30 seconds to engage your reader, and you have 3 minutes for your prospect to read the entire paper. No matter how great a writer you are, people will skim your material. Make it easy to digest by using quotes, images, and great design.
“In a recent Forrester survey, 62% of B2B buyers said they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list solely on the basis of digital content.” - Seth Marrs, Forrester
Focus on Thought Leadership Don’t just patch together a bunch of other people’s work. Create new value by evaluating mainstream opinions, highlighting alternatives, or poking a hole in competing solutions. Become a trusted source of novel information, while keeping accuracy a top priority. If you seem biased or pushy, then your white paper becomes a big sales brochure and loses all its power.
Include a Call-to-Action Whether or not to include a call-to-action is a bit controversial, because until not long ago, most white papers were written by academics. Marketing white papers have a different purpose, though, so while it's important to provide high-quality information, you should also connect the paper to the rest of your marketing ecosystem. You can do this by giving the reader a way to learn more, contact you, or by logically connecting the information you've provided to your solutions.
Build a Promotional Strategy Like the case study, your new white paper wants to live out in the world! To help it do that friends, and you should help it make friends by creating a special landing page for it and creating a thorough marketing effort around its release.
Put the paper on your website, on a landing page for an ad campaign, mail it to prospects, hand it out a tradeshows, give it to salespeople to use a leave behind material. So many options!
Not ready to tackle the writing and editing process for a big piece of content? Finding outside assistance can help. Not only do outside copywriters or marketing consultants have a process for planning and developing a white paper, but they also know how to interact with your engineers, product managers, and technologists, exacting the most important information while providing a valuable outsider perspective.
>> Read our guide for tips on creating more effective lead magnets
Social proof, which includes case studies, testimonials, and user reviews, is evidence from within your target audience’s peer group that substantiates your marketing claim. This highly persuasive form of content is considered “very important” by 52% of B2B buyers when evaluating vendors, which makes it a must have in your content marketing toolbox.
There are many kinds of case studies, though, which means you need to think about which format best suits your needs first. For example, you can use case studies to illustrate the success of an individual deployment or solution, while others demonstrate cumulative success across multiple cases. In other cases, you can use case studies as thought leadership to challenge generalizations or assumptions that your prospects might be making.
No matter which type of case study you choose to create write, there are plenty of time-honored techniques to make sure you get it right. Here are some of the best guidelines for building an effective case study:
Ask the right questions: What were their goals? What made your product/service stand out from others? What did their decision-making process look like?
Ask open-ended questions (tell me about… can you explain why….) during the interview to uncover their thought process and give the case study a personal dimension.
Write as specifically as you can without being boring, both about the customer’s problems and your solution.
Try different formats. Does an interview with a satisfied customer make more sense than a traditional case study? Maybe a video? Or a series of blog posts? Consider which format fits into the overall brand image and marketing strategy.
Include great quotes! Testimonials straight from the customer’s mouth, both about your solution and the problem they were facing, add an appealing human element. Without it, the case study you limit the case study’s relatability.
Visualize where possible. Including unique visual elements helps make case studies more attractive and increases their appeal.
>> Want to learn more? Read our guide to creating B2B case studies.
Content Promotion is Key to Your Success
The most important part of a content marketing program is to create valuable, educational content around your services and support. But it’s not enough that you just create the content, you must also promote the content so that the right people see it.
Here are some of the most common ways that businesses can promote their content
Social Media LinkedIn is a popular social media channel for B2B buyers. Consistently promoting content on LinkedIn, targeted LinkedIn groups, as well as Twitter and other social media, is a good way to demonstrate your expertise and build rapport with potential clients.
Business Profile For regional businesses like most MSPs, optimizing your Google Business Profile is a critical way of getting into the “Map Pack” of local business searches. Post all content to your profile and boost your rankings and get seen by searchers in your area.
Marketing Campaigns Do you run outbound demand generation campaigns with email? Integrating relevant, persona-specific content into those campaigns can help you gather higher-quality analytics data and give your prospects a way to interact with your brand without contacting you.
Newsletters Many MSPs want to stay in touch with their subscribed customers with a monthly newsletters. Email is an excellent venue to share out new content that readers may find valuable.
Remember: You can measure and optimize content market marketing performance at every single stage. Set up Google Analytics 4 already, right? If not, that’s something you’ll probably want to get going sooner than later, so you can track your performance and make optimizations.
The Importance of Aligning Sales and Marketing Content
One of the best ways to ensure your content investment yields a positive ROI is to ensure that it reflects and aligns with how your sales staff are speaking with prospects. This may seem commonsense, but 60% - 70% of salespeople are not using digital marketing collateral during the sales process, because either that can’t find it, or they don’t think would be helpful
Offline sales collateral like brochures and sales sheets should be seamlessly integrated into your content ecosystem and can help enrich the web experience for your visitors.
When creating a great brochure or sales sheet, the same rules for copywriting will apply. Aim for a lively, personal tone that is authoritative and educational. Here are some tips and ideas you can use to create solution briefs that inspire respect and interest..
Structure the body to explain your benefits in order of their value to your customer. Place each benefit under its own headline and keep paragraphs short and easily digestible.
Reformat technical information and statistics as graphs, charts, or diagrams. This provides a visual rest for the eye, make the document more dynamic, and helps keep your reading flowing along smoothly.
Include customer testimonials or other forms of social proof to increase credibility and readability.
Start Content Marketing with Complete Confidence
The easiest way to execute on an impactful content marketing strategy is with the help of a partner who has helped companies just like yours achieve lasting results.
For over a decade, BIOS Marketing & Communications has been helping IT services firms, B2B SaaS firms, cybersecurity, and IoT companies generate revenue through smart, targeted content marketing campaigns.
Interested in content marketing? Contact me any time: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-215-392-0750!