In today’s age of digital marketing, it’s now more important than ever to have a proper Content Strategy in place. It can be nigh on impossible for companies and brands to compete without one. Inidviduals prefer to connect with brands that drive value to them rather than bombarding them with sales pitches.
In a world where everyone can be on social media, it’s no longer enough for brands to rely on Facebook and Twitter to deliver all of their content needs. They must now create their own relevant and engaging content. Digital marketing has always been about more than just social media such as SEO, email and blogging, but in the past few years it has become increasingly dependent upon them.
The following content strategy guide will help inform you on the basics of content strategy for anyone looking to get into digital marketing. We will give you an overview and explain some crucial parts of the process, as well as explain how you can implement your own content strategy and drive value in return.
What is a content strategy?
Content is a very ambiguous word and in the digital realm takes on so many meanings. This can make it hard for people to know where to start. The simplest definition of content is how we present ourselves and our interactions with others. The reality is ff you don’t have anything interesting to say, you should probably think a little harder about what you want to say, because if your content sucks it’s going to be really difficult for your company to publish or take advantage of any opportunities that come up as a result of publishing your content.
Now that you are invested in creating a well defined and documented content strategy, it’s worth unpacking what it is. A content strategy is just as it sounds, a strategy. It is a methodical plan that you need to have in place when creating and publishing content. It’s worth noting that content strategy isn’t just the creation and publishing of your content, but also how you are going to measure it, and what you are going to do with the results you gather from your content. Let’s dig deeper.
Who is the target audience of your content
Creating without understanding who you are targeting is a little horse before the cart. So it is important to have a clear idea of who your customers are, what they like and in what area they have an interest.
Defining this audience will help inform your content strategy. If you are a big company, you could be going directly after an audience of 1000’s with your content. If you are creating content for your customers though it is important to make them feel like they are talking directly to their friend when they read it. You should be aiming to make people laugh or feel inspired by the brand to continue following the brand on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram etc.
So dig deep and define who they are, have a defined view of who they are. This can be done in a few ways:
- A demographic break by age, gender, etc.
- What problem or need do they have.
- What interests them.
- Their social network/contact details.
- Their preferred digital channels
- How do they consume information
Does your target audience have a buying process
Understanding what your customers want helps you deliver content that will help deliver the results you want. Your content needs to be relevant to the people you are targeting and make them feel like it is valuable for them to engage with your content. If you can’t provide value for them it is highly likely that they won’t engage with your content at all.
This section is about how they action their needs. As you may have guessed, there are four distinct stages your target audience goes through before they do business with you. Understanding each of these stages will make it easier for you to structure your content strategy so that it leads them through the buying process from start to finish. This is called a customer lifecycle and each stage has its own objective. This is a great way to view the content you are creating as you can tailor it to the buying process.
The four stages are as follows:
Awareness and recognition:
When a person first comes across your brand, they will not know anything about it. At this point they will be passive. Your content needs to help them to become aware of your brand, either through a paid or free article on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter etc. It should not be very long and it is best to keep it short and sweet (about 300 characters).
At this stage they will have become aware of your brand and are beginning to think about it. The amount of time that has passed between the start of this stage and when they engage with the content should be relatively small. This is the time you should be giving them hints as to what you can offer them. You want them to buy into your content, meaning that when they engage with it they feel as if it was worth their while.
Now they have engaged with your content, you want to make sure that it is up to the standard they would expect from a major brand. By providing them with value that they can take away from the content and apply into their own lives.
Post purchase / retention:
After they have bought your product or service, you will need to maintain contact with them. You will need to keep them aware of the next steps, and make sure that they are happy with their purchase.
Understanding your USP
Have a clear indication of what your unique selling proposition is will help inform your content strategy. You should be able to identify what you do better than your competitors within the space that you are operating in. The answer will depend on what type of business you are, and the audience that you are going after.
For example, if you are an online clothing retailer, there may be a certain appeal to your brand that the competition does not have. You could do this by being cheaper than the competition by $10 or applying a more inclusive range of sizes for example.
Another example of this is an online gift store. A lot of brands have a number of offerings that they can offer but what sets one business apart from the others is its USP. They have something special which separates them from the crowd.
- Amazon: The lowest prices with the highest customer satisfaction rate.
- Benjamin Moore: A complete paint and finish system that is guaranteed to last up to 20 years or more.
- Coach: Using the highest quality materials from around the world. Creating stylish products that can be worn in almost any situation.
- Chicos: Designer fashion for the pre teen/teen market.
What content formats will you focus on that will resonate with and engage with your audience
The reason that you should take the time to identify what your audience wants is that once you know this information, it will help to inform how you write and create content for your audience. It will help you to understand what language they use; it will help you to understand how they think. It will also help you to see what content formats are most effective and attractive for them.
To get your audience to read your content, you first need to understand what interests and stimulates them, and then you must be able to express it in a form that they will find compelling. To help you out let’s look at a few content formats:
Guides are short pieces of information used to provide a single point of action that will lead the reader to a more detailed piece of content.
There is one very important thing to keep in mind when writing guides or manuals for your customers: be sure that the information gathered is acceptable and only include what will work. The content can be as long as you want but you must know your audience, refrain from including any content that would be offensive or inappropriate to them.
Blogs are short, frequent posts that can be used to tell a story or convey a process. The purpose of the blog is to keep readers engaged and inspired. Blogs can be interactive and are a great way of being able to show off your new products or services.
A podcast is essentially a series of audio files stored on an ‘online’ platform like iTunes or Spotify. You can include voice recordings and/or video. We recommend that you include video in your podcast as it boosts the chances of your podcast being shared with a wider audience.
Podcasts are great for spreading your ideas and are a fantastic way to give more information about a particular product or service without having to write out long manuals or guides.
Infographics are visual representations of data that has been converted into charts, graphs and diagrams. This provides an effective way to provide a single point of action. For example, you can use an infographic to show the steps involved in setting up a new website. This will get your audience to engage with your content and take action.
Slideshows can be extremely helpful and engaging for customers who are on the move. This is because they are information on display that will continue playing while your audience is engaged in other tasks such as watching a movie or playing a game online.
Checklists are short pieces of information that can be used to provide your audience with an easy to complete action item. This is an excellent way of providing your audience with a quick and easy way to interact with your company.
Templates are guides that contain information which can be used to complete a task. We recommend that you provide templates in excel or word format for customers who want to create their own documents, proposals and other important pieces of information.
Case studies give your audience an example of how a particular product or service is successful and can be used to market these services to other potential customers through social media outlets.
Entertaining Social media posts
Posts that are entertaining can be a great way of increasing engagement with your social media platforms. You will need to consider the type of content this will be in order to broaden your customer base. For example, if you are selling dog food, it would make sense for you to post content related to dogs rather than posts related to sports or politics.
You can use quotes at the start of your writing to offer a quick and easy point of action for your customers. The reason why quotes work very well is because you can use them for different industries. For example, you can use quotes from a famous actor or musician. You can also include quotes with your blog posts and articles to help your audience stay focused .
What are the digital channels you will be publishing and distributing
Now that you understand your target audience understanding their online habits will help you decide which digital channels to use.
Here is a list of the most popular digital channels:
- Blogging: This is a great way to provide your customers with valuable tips, tutorials and ideas related to your industry. You can also use blog posts to showcase new products or services that you are selling and help you enhance your brand profile.
- Social Media: Social media platforms have become the number one place where businesses can engage with their customers and this includes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. This is also where you can find deals, promotions, details about products and so much more.
- Email: Email marketing is one of the easiest ways to share your message with your audience. This will help you build relationships with your customers and promote special offers and discounts that are relevant to them.
- Video: Video marketing is a great way of conveying information in a fast paced manner. Videos are easy to share online and can get your message across clearly to your target audience in a matter of seconds.
- Forums: This is a great way to engage with your audience in discussions where you can give them advice related to particular products or services. This is an excellent way of improving your reputation and getting to know your audience better.
- Search: Search engines are a great way to find information related to products and services. This is especially handy if you are looking for product reviews or product specifications on the internet.
- Quora: This is a great platform with millions of users that can be used for online Q&A sessions where customers can ask questions regarding products and services. This is a very engaging format which can help improve your reputation and get better results from your marketing activities.
How does a content strategy help you grow your business, what are the benefits?
Content is a key to a successful business. And not just any content but an effective content strategy. Without the strategy and plan you will be working ad-hoc and not measuring the ROI. With a strategy you can grow and scale your business by creating better content that is more engaging to readers, helping them to take taking the actions you need them to take.
The benefits of a content strategy are:
Ensuring that the content supports your business objectives.
Everything you create should have a goal attached to it. Your content should help you achieve your business goals. This could be anything from building credibility, authority, or showcasing client reviews etc. If you can link it to a goal it becomes much easier to measure how effective the content was and if you are achieving your business objectives.
Your content strategy will improve your marketing ROI
Creating amazing content takes considerable time, energy and dollars investment. So you need to measure the return on investment. If you don’t know how your content is performing then you won’t know if you have made the right investment and what it will take to reach the goals. Using this strategy allows you to measure a range of KPIs that will provide a better picture of what you are doing and whether the content is effective or not.
It will help you understand what is working and what is not
This is even truer if you have never invested any effort to have a baseline of what works and what doesn’t. So using a strategy you can understand which content is getting the most views, which content is being shared, which content is engaging your audience and what works for them. You can discover topics that are more popular, data to help you create better buying guides, templates and tips.
Manages expectations and keeps everyone on your team informed
The strategy allows everyone to understand what they are accountable for and when. This will also help ensure that clients, partners and co-workers are kept informed about the progress of the project or campaign.
Consistency and quality
When you develop your strategy you will end up with a content calendar that will ensure that the content you are creating is consistent, clear and that the people form your team understand who is responsible for what. This will help ensure that everyone creates great content within the right time frames.
How do you plan and create a content strategy?
Now that we have a foundation and understand of what a content strategy. It’s time to get into the planning and creation of this future content strategy. You’ve got this far and probably feeling a little overwhelmed by it all.
If so, take a breath and realise that there is a method to developing this strategy. You might find this content model useful in creating your own strategy. Follow the below outline:
Set your mission and your goals for the content strategy
A strategy without a mission or goals is basically useless. It’s time to knuckle down and formulate what is it is you are trying to achieve and how you are going to measure it.
You need to set what your mission is for the content strategy. It should be a purpose that you want the content strategy to achieve over a multiple year period. This can be something simple like ‘to grow brand awareness’ or ‘improve customer loyalty’.
The goal(s) of the strategy will tell you how you are going to measure if this mission is being successfully achieved. For example, if your mission is ‘grow brand awareness, then the goal could be ‘to grow our following on Facebook by 3000 by X date’.
Another example of the purpose and goal is ‘improve customer loyalty, then the goal could be ‘increase our user satisfaction score by X’.
You should then also think what you want to achieve from your content strategy. Is it something that requires a lot of research? Would it be easier to simply get the information via media (e.g. TV, radio, print)? Do you have access to a large number of people/customers?
Establish your KPIs
To achieve goals you KPIs. Our preferred method is to setup SMART KPI’s which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. This should be relatively easy.
The hard bit comes when you try to validate your KPIs by finding out how you will get this data and where you will find it.
One thing we have learnt is that you often need to create your own content for the specific KPI. This is because you need to know the answer to these questions:
When will we start measuring? (i.e when do you want to start seeing if the KPIs are being met?)
When will we stop measuring? (so you can present the results)
What content do I need to create in order to answer this KPI? (i.e if the KPI is ‘improve customer satisfaction, then you need a specific survey which you can then publish on your website).
Create a content calendar
The third stage of the planning is to create the content calendar. This will outline all the content you need to create (in a spreadsheet). You need to ensure this is broken down into multiple month periods (don’t try and do this over one year period). The reason for this is because it’s more manageable and ensures you don’t miss anything.
The other reason is because some content will take longer to create than others. For example, if you are creating an eBook, then it takes longer to write. You might also need input from multiple people (e.g. 2-3 months). Whereas you can create a blog in less than a day and it can be written by yourself (i.e one person).
It’s also worth noting that you probably won’t create all of this content in year one of the strategy.
The reason for this is because you are creating a content marketing strategy, not a content creation strategy. You need to create the content to achieve your goals. Not for the sake of it.
This is why you setup a calendar and break it down into manageable chunks. For example, if you want to create an eBook, then try and break this down into smaller stages.
If you have a medium sized organisation, then you should be able to predict how long each piece of content will take. This is because some content needs research and time to write (e.g an eBook). Whereas other content might come easy such as a blog post or short video.
You also need to include a timeframe for when the content will be published. It’s worth noting that some content will take longer to publish than others.
Define your audience
Earlier we discussed this but you need to formalise this into your strategy. This will help to identify who is your audience and their main characteristics.
A good approach is to have a persona created for each audience in your strategy. This will allow you to easily identify who are the target audiences for each piece of content you are going to create in the future.
What are you going to use for the distribution of content?
At this point, we’ve covered how you are going to create the content, what it’s purpose is and when it’s going to be published.
We then need to create a strategy for distributing the content. This means you need to determine which digital channels you will be creating content for now the purpose for using them. Which channel is best suited for your type of content?
Your website, landing pages, your blog, social media, Youtube, emails, partners, affiliates etc.
For some digital channels, it’s as easy as using a ‘Share’ button and for others, it might need a bit more work if you’re trying to link the piece of content.
You also need to consider how the content will be shared across these channels. Will it be on social media? Or do you need to have a landing page setup for this specific piece of content?
Most content will need a bit more thought than this. For example, your eBook is probably going to warrant a few different marketing channels (i.e social media etc). Whereas your blog post might only need 1 or 2 channels (such as your website and/or email).
By now you have an understanding of the who, the where and how you will measure. Now we need some ideas. You might already have the idea but you can also help yourself out by brainstorming here. Even if you don’t have it yet, focus on what you would like to produce in each stage and why.
A great to start is by looking at the buyers lifecycle and aligning content with these. So start thinking about how you can provide more value and how you can help keep your leads within the buyers lifecycle.
From here, you should be able to come up with a list of ideas that are realistic, have a purpose and are aligned with the buyer cycle. It’s also best to share this list with colleagues who will be working on these types of ideas. This will allow for feedback and collaboration on future ideas that might not occur to you.
Some tools you can use to brainstorm are:
- Keyword Research Tools
- Answer the Public
- Buzz Sumo
- Simply searching ideas on Google
- Pinterest for visual inspiration
- Check out what competitors are doing
Once you have your ideas, you need to schedule them out on a content calendar. Some of your pieces of content you might not even need a calendar as they are more one off campaigns. But for other pieces that are going to keep running, it’s worthwhile building the content calendar so that they can be produced on time and released at the perfect times.
You should look to do this by splitting the type of content you will be producing and labelling, the purpose, the audience, the KPI for success and the channel distribution. From here, your content calendar will look pretty similar to a marketing calendar with small blocks of time for each piece of content you will be producing.
The best place to start planning this calendar is on a spread sheet, but if you have a large amount of content you are creating, it might be worth investing in a more specialised tool like CoSchedule.
Content production , scheduling and briefing
Now who is going to be doing all of this work? Who are the people that will produce all of these pieces of content?
Well, this is where the marketing team comes in. That sounds unfair, but it’s really not. Putting together a marketing calendar is just another example of having a disciplined workflow to ensure you can meet your KPI for success. Investing the time up front to plan this calendar allows you to spend all that time after creating it, putting together the pieces of content you have already developed.
Figure out a content workflow:
What is the content production process look like. An example of this would be:
- create content outline for approval
- create content
- source any visuals
- get someone to edit
- get final approval
You’ve got your calendar, you’ve got your content production.
Next step. Distribution.
Within your content calendar and roadmap, you have already planned the distribution of the content. Schedule out the content inline with your calendar into the platform of distribution and press go.
Monitoring the results of your content
Now this is important. You need to monitor any KPIs you set for the content strategy. This will allow you to determine if the strategy is working or not and where it’s lacking.
One way of measuring this is through analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Kissmetrics and Bunchball. Another way is to create your own analytics tool, using your own data. It’s also worth noting that some of your KPIs won’t be measurable through these tools. For these, you need to consider how you will measure them.
Here are a few examples of how we use analytics:
- Increase in goal completions – With Google Analytics appended to the URL, we can track any goal completions and ascribe attribution to specific content.
- Increase in goal growth – Using Kissmetrics, we can track any goal growth and ascribe attribution to specific content.
- Increase in the number of visits per day – Measure with Google Analytics.
- Increase in average session length – Measure with Google Analytics.
- Increase in average page views per session – Measure with Google Analytics.
Reviewing the strategy and turning it into actionable steps for next year’s strategy.
There is no point in having a content marketing strategy if you can’t do anything with it. This is where the strategy needs to become actionable steps for the client to be able to take.
The first thing you should do is review what happened this year and then start planning for next year. You should have a list of new ideas that can be included into next years plan along with the goals you have already set out for your business.
You should also review the content calendar and how it worked out. If there is anything you can improve or do differently next year.
If there are some goals/KPI’s that aren’t working, then you need to figure out why they aren’t working and then either eliminate it from the strategy or find a way to make it work. The same applies if you wanted something to happen that hasn’t worked. You need to identify why it hasn’t worked and if it’s achievable again next year.
You should also take note of all the content you have created this year. The reason for this is because a lot of it is probably going to be useful next year. Especially if you have shared this content on social media, it might be worth re-using it next year (i.e by modifying it slightly or using different images).
From this guide you can see that planning is an important thing to do and we have broken this down content strategy into a few simple steps.
Hopefully, this has helped you out and you will have a good idea of how to plan out a content marketing strategy. It might sound a bit much, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done and the ideas that come along the way.
Be patient and give yourself time as this if its a first go it can take considerable time and effort. Make sure internal stakeholders are happy with the strategy and that they will be executed on for next year.
Questions about the content strategy
How long does it take to plan a content strategy?
These steps can be done in a week or two and you should be able to decide what’s going to work best for your business. It’s not going to be 100% in one go, but it’s likely you will have an idea of what will work for the next year after one or two weeks.
It also depends on the experience of the person who is doing the planning. It can take a lot more time if you don’t have experience running a content strategy before or if you are working with an agency.
The budget is also important. If you have a small business then you might be able to create content quickly but if you have large amounts of money, then this might take a little longer. You will need to assess what the budget is and work out how much is needed before beginning.
Doing it yourself vs hiring a content strategist freelancer
If you’re not too sure about hiring someone, then it might be worth doing it yourself. Unless you are working for a larger company or you have someone on the team, then it’s unlikely you’ll need to hire a content strategist.
A content strategy is more about planning and having an understanding of the content creation process (as well as plenty of experience). If you have this knowledge already, then it’s probably best that you do this yourself.
This would also depend on your budget. If you have a small budget and don’t have the time, then you might need to hire someone to help you out.
If you do decide to hire someone, make sure they are qualified and experienced in developing content marketing strategies. It would be best if they have a lot of experience within this area and are someone who you can work with daily.
How often should I update the content strategy?
Once a month is usually good enough, one week before the content creation begins to allow for planning. If you update your content strategy monthly it will still be pretty lightweight and easy to implement. If you update it yearly then it’s likely you will have a lot more work to do and it will take longer for you to implement.
What skills are needed to create a content strategy?
Planning, creativity and research skills are needed in order to put together a successful strategy. Good writing skills as well as having an understanding of the buyer cycle is also very useful.
You’ll also need to be able to communicate this strategy with a variety of people who will be involved in its creation (i.e marketing team, copywriters and graphic designers etc).
How important is considering SEO as part of your content strategy?
In our experience, SEO is the most important part of your content strategy. At least 50% of how we plan out our strategy is around keywords and being able to rank in Google. This isn’t just for us as a business, but also for our clients who are trying to rank in Google and get more traffic.
Without SEO there is no point planning a content strategy as you won’t get any traffic. You need to understand every aspect of SEO and how it relates to your content strategy.
Are there any other tools that can help with planning your content strategy?
There are a few tools you might find useful. CoSchedule is a great tool for planning from the outside and it allows you to include images in your content creation process. It also allows you to highlight other aspects of the creative process such as good and bad words, any negative feedback, etc.
BuzzSumo is a great tool to use for finding new content ideas and other people sharing the same content.
Keyword Research websites, such as SEM Rush and Keywordtool.io are also useful tools for seeing what keywords competitors are using in their SEO/content marketing strategies.
Google Analytics is a good way of seeing where your traffic is coming from on your website, so you can see what content has worked most effectively. Just make sure you copy the tracking code and place it on your website as you won’t see where it originated from.