• Charles Comenos

The Complete Guide to Content Marketing for MSPs and VARs

Updated: Apr 12

All managed IT service providers (MSPs), value-added resellers (VARs), and IT consultants need to generate and nurture new leads to stay prosperous.

Marketing is an great way to do that, but many technology services companies are led by engineers who are naturally skeptical of the term, "marketing."

If you've built your career through precision and attention to detail, you may find term marketing unserious, maybe even a bit unscrupulous.

Content marketing is a great way out of this trap.

Creating high-quality, strategic content positions your company as a trustworthy expert and helps you generate new leads, without forcing you to become one of those slick marketing guys.

The goal of this guidebook is to provide marketing directors and sales executives working in the IT channel a concise overview of the content marketing strategies and tactics they can employ to achieve a positive return on investment and consistently hit their growth targets.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Content Marketing and Why Should I Care?

  2. Is Content Marketing Effective?

  3. Website Optimization

  4. Keyword Research and Planning

  5. Creating Strategic B2B Content

  6. Content Distribution and Promotion

  7. Measure and Optimize

  8. Closing

What is Content Marketing and Why Should I Care?

Content marketing is the art of creating consistent and informative articles, white papers, case studies and other forms of media to build visibility, trust, and authority with prospects, allowing them to engage with your brand organically at every stage of the complex buying journey.

Content marketing isn't just creating content though, there are five distinct stages of the content marketing process:

the B2B content marketing process

What do you want to achieve with your content marketing effort, and what steps will you take to achieve those goals? After you've created quality content that aligns with your strategy, do you have a plan for distribution? 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.

Is Content Marketing Effective?

While outbound sales or marketing efforts, such as cold calling, cold email, and advertising can certainly generate leads for salespeople, there are reasons why 88% percent of B2B marketers are now using content marketing, while those approaches are stagnating or 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 Content marketing involves a sustained investment in time and money, but once the engine is going the benefits 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.

On top of that, most MSPs, VARs, and technology consultants are excellent candidates for content marketing, even if they don’t always know it. As regional businesses, your company is only competing for website real estate in a particular market. That means that with high-quality, sustained effort, companies yield serious gains in visibility that have a clear and direct positive impact on your bottom line.

Digital Marketing Starts with a Strong Website

There foundation of all your digital marketing efforts is your website. After the messaging on your website is appealing and sharp and your web pages are written to appeal to well-defined buyer personas, you're ready to start content marketing.

Here's how to know if your website is ready for content marketing

  • Who are your best customers right now? What do you have to do to get more customers like them?

  • Are there any new industry verticals that you want to start working in? Or specific segments inside your existing client base that you think might yield good business?

  • What do your clients truly respond to during sales calls?

  • What is your competition saying on their website and what aren’t they saying? Are there opportunities to exploit?

  • What do I know about my clients’ buying journey? Who is making the decision, and how do they decide to work with a new technology services firm to work with?

  • What obstacles are preventing me from converting more leads into sales? Is there anything that I’m saying that could be a red flag or turn off to an inbound lead?

Though these sound basic, just by answering them you’re already putting yourself out ahead of 80% of the other MSPs or IT service firms in your market. We’ve worked with established technology services firms across the country, and in even crowded markets like NYC and Los Angeles, there are only a limited number of shops competing for online marketing visibility. This provides a great opportunity for firms to capture valuable traffic.

Structure Your Website for Digital Marketing Success

Most MSPs and solution providers don’t think too much about the menu structure of their website. Maybe there are some “solutions,” or “services” listed, but they rarely go deeper than that. This is a missed opportunity from a digital marketing point of view because the structure and technical characteristics of your site can have a significant impact on your content marketing efforts.

Here’s are some examples:

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 tech fluency is assumed. In your customers’ mind, why should an IT firm have a shoddy website? If they can’t manage to build a decent website, what are the chances they can build or manage a reliable IT solution?

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

local seo statistics

Building 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.

There are lots of guidelines and blog posts available on the Internet, all of which can be adapted to meet the needs of MSPs, VARs, and IT channel as partners.

Another good place to start is with the techniques of Michael Masterson, who has outlined the following four criteria that can be used ensure that headlines are effective.

  • 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.

Read our complete guide to optimizing B2B websites

Impactful Body Copy with Copywriting Best Practices Keep body copy concise or on message. Most of your prospects will be scanning your website the first time they visit, and it’s important that every can quickly get key content without having to wade through tedious descriptions or dense, small-type paragraphs.

Keyword Research and Content Planning

Now that your website is optimized, it’s time to start creating content! Well, after you do some keyword research, anyway.

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:

Dashboard for SEO Software
Typical SEO Keyword Dashboard

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. Some of that process is looking at metrics for each keyword, but another portion of it is using your experience in that industry to determine which topics you should prioritize, and how to implement them into your overall digital marketing strategy.

For example, the next logical step is to start looking for related keyword topics for worthwhile targets. 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.

SEO Keyword Research Dashboard
SEO Keyword Dashboard 2

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.

  1. Analyze the search engine results pages for related topics

  2. Identify informational searches in your area related to security

  3. 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 to maintain a blog. The reason is that a blog is the best venue for regularly posting original content onto your website, so you can 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:

  1. Show why a business problem must be solved

  2. Explore the ways to solve a business problem

  3. 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. Make it part of your strategy, not the whole enchilada. Place you can put white papers: your website, on a landing page for a campaign, a classified ad in a professional journal or newsletter, mail it to prospects, hand it out a tradeshows, give it to salespeople to use a “leave behind material”

Edit, Proofread, Edit again White papers are a strategically important investment that can determine the outcome of a marketing campaign. Don’t allow poor writing or readability undermine all the effort and money you’ve invested into a new paper.

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

Case Studies

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:

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. Write as specifically as you can without being boring, both about the customer’s problems and your solution.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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.

A well-written brief for each of your primary service of solution pages will provide help you provide potential customers with a more in-depth view of your products and services. And, a small, shareable PDF file makes a great leave-behind collateral during sales calls.

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.

  • Include a strong headline and sub-headline to drive reader’s interest down into the body copy. Try to unify or extend the messaging on your website whenever possible.

  • Structure the body copy to explain the solution benefits in order of their value to your customer. Place each benefit under its own headline. 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.

  • Make sure to include contact information prominently at the end of the brief.

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: charles@hellobios.com or 1-215-392-0750!

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