Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specializing in lead generation and content marketing.
OPINION: When I want to explain marketing concepts to small business owners, I like to use ways that people can understand and remember. I often link them to other things that I already know a little about. One of the most consistent analogies I use is, “Be a spider, build a web.”
It therefore goes without saying that I wrote a book titled exactly that. I wanted to help small business owners understand content marketing and how it can work for their business in the easiest way possible. This column explains how this spider web relates to marketing, so you can also use it to think about your own content marketing strategy.
To understand marketing like a spider, we have to understand a spider’s web.
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Webs come in all shapes and sizes, and some are created in slightly different ways, but for this I want you to imagine a web made by a garden spider.
Their webs require a lot of patience and objects to grab. The spider begins by finding a solid anchor point. They attach their silk to it and weave an anchor thread on another stable surface. They pull this wire tight to make it solid, then twist a bridge wire to another solid surface, then back down to the anchor, pulling each line, so that there is a solid triangle shape.
From there, the spider drops to the center of the triangle, releases its spider silk, and lets the wind catch the thread. It lands on an anchor or bridge wire and then is tightened. It is the first ray of the web.
The spider repeats this up to twenty times, creating spoke lines from the same center, adding a few double threads to reinforce key lines or to help frame the web neatly. After all lines are out, the spider checks which lines will best withstand all weather and unexpected events. Some of the radius lines will be cut off, leaving the stronger ones.
Now is the time to do the capture spiral. Starting from the point farthest from the center, the spider weaves its web, dropping its silk in an ever-decreasing spiral. The closer the spider gets to the center, the closer the lines get and the sticker to the web.
From time to time, the spider will turn around in the web and back to make sure the web lines are strong, especially around the outside edges of the web spiral. When finished, the spider moves to the middle of the web, which is called the hub. This is where they patiently wait for visitors to their website.
The end result of their hard work is a beautiful and intricate design. Just like your web content will become.
Let’s take these steps and apply them to a content strategy
The anchor point
The anchor is the starting point for all our content. It’s about your well-defined and livable values, core offerings, market position, and a clear focus on who your ideal customer is. This is often the hardest part for small business owners. Those who find it easier to build a business that aligns with what they do best and create content that both appeals to their ideal customers and filters out those who aren’t.
The bridge of trust
Our web is topped and strengthened by the bridge of trust that helps shape our web. We need to verify that our business is already delivering on its promises, that our marketing aligns with what we offer, and that we are successful in creating repeat and referring customers. If we don’t reinforce this bond of trust, the marketing we do will only amplify the cracks in our service levels and we will have to spend a lot more energy acquiring new customers again and again.
The decision center
It’s the center of your website, and it’s where we convert our marketing leads into customers. We want people to be ready to buy, without us having to push or manipulate them into doing so. We get them to the decision center (using different types of content) and then we often use our websites, email marketing, and events or webinars to get them to the moment of decision.
Each spoke line is a type of marketing. Some of us have a lot, some of us have just a few. It doesn’t matter how many spoke lines you have, as long as they all work together to help attract people to your website and keep them there. We want our website to be sticky.
Some of your spoke lines can be quite short (but strong) because we use them when someone is about to make a decision. It could be your website, or maybe an event.
Others may be thicker at the outer edges where we receive most of our visitors, and then have almost nothing near the decision center. An example of this would be Pinterest, which is really good at getting people to the web, but not so good at keeping them there on its own.
Platforms like Instagram or LinkedIn can have a long, solid line from the off-web to the decision-making web. That’s because you can use different types of content and different types of activities to help people from initial interest to ready-to-buy.
If you use print media, radio, or have a brick and mortar store, this all fits into your website as well. If it’s a place where you showcase your content and help people relate to you, it belongs on the web.
The capture spiral
If you imagine a spider’s web, you know that the spiral starts out large and gets smaller and smaller as it gets closer to the hub. It also becomes stickier and harder to escape. So we need less sticky and “intense” content for people who are just getting to know us. It’s Reels, TikToks, Pinterest Pins, things that don’t require commitment.
The goal of this content in the capture spiral is to get people interested enough in you to follow you.
Once they are on our website, we start with educational and information-based content that helps them trust us, then we move on to more motivational and intent content that builds that trust as well as a desire to spend time with our brand. .
The stickiest part of our website is in the Decision Center. These are our sales-type messages, or offers, and our strong call-to-action.
When we look at the type of content we create, we need to create more less sticky content and know that some people may never get to the really sticky conversion stuff.
One of the most exciting parts of building a content website is allowing people to find you where they are. Your future customers and clients will come to your website at different times, depending on where you have weaved your website.
Most of them will come in from one of the outer edges where there’s less engagement, less personal interaction and they can stare for a while and verify that you’re one of those nice spiders that they are looking for.
Sometimes you’ll have someone jumping straight in and skipping the outer parts. If they came with someone who has worked with you before or knows you, they will feel safe enough to immediately jump into the middle tiers of the web. They can also do this if they are taking risks or jumping off someone’s website.
It’s rare for most people to jump straight into the center (the Hub) and be ready to buy, and if they do, you’ll often need to spend time in sales meetings to build rapport and build trust. This is something you won’t need to do with people who have been hanging around your website for a while. You’ve already let them take their time to build their confidence, and they’re ready.
As we explained earlier, each spoke of your website is a type of marketing. One will be your website, other social media platforms, marketing activities, and email marketing that will help attract people.
Some have thicker lines on the outside of the spiral, perfect for attracting new people to your website and less as the person gets closer. (For example, Pinterest is a powerful source of initial interest, but it’s harder to help build engagement and community the closer people get to the center and make a purchase.)
Others will be sparse at the top and will have plenty to do closer to the Hub. If webinars are part of your content marketing website, they will only be a first entry point for risk takers, people in severe pain (and you meet them “just at the right time”) or people who were told to attend by someone else already on your website.
It doesn’t matter when someone accesses our website, they can choose the pace of travel to your hub. If someone enters the web halfway through the Hub, they will still move around the web in exactly the same way as if they had entered the outer parts of a web. Building trust takes time, and each person has slightly different ways of checking the lines of trust you have established. It is not up to us to choose their direction, or their pace. We’re just here tracing all possible paths to facilitate our search at the Hub.
Our job is to be patient. Trust the rigidity of the web. And resist jumping on our new visitors to bite them. In other words, we have to be a nice spider.
This is an abridged excerpt from my new book Be a Spider, Build a Website: Sticky Content Marketing for Small Businesses. You can hear more about the Podcast MAP IT Marketing this week.