Most business owners nowadays are aware of the benefits of content marketing. It helps you gain more visibility online, portrays you as an expert, and generally grows connections with people who need what you sell.
But how do successful content marketers decide what to talk about? What yardstick do the big players use to judge what topics to tackle; when to publish that content; and what formats and channels to use to get their hard work out there? What part does each piece of content play in meeting their content marketing goals?
Those who are successful at content marketing have one thing in common; they all have a robust “content strategy”.
What is a Content Strategy?
Your content strategy establishes the goals you want to achieve through content and puts the vision you have for your content marketing efforts in black and white. Doing content marketing without a content strategy is basically like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
If you get involved with content marketing in any way, chances are you’ve come across a “content plan” or “editorial calendar” – which basically stipulates what you’re going to post, where, and when. Your content strategy is different – it formalises the whole rationale behind your content endeavours.
Having an editorial calendar is important to maintain your everyday presence, but your content strategy is a high-level definition of your content’s boundaries, what you’re going to discuss, and the people you are looking to reach with your content, and most importantly – why. It’s the reasons why your content exists. It defines the short and long-term goals you’re looking to achieve through your blogs, videos, social media, etc. and how you’re going to achieve them.
To put together a meaningful content strategy, you really need to hunker down and reacquaint yourself with your brand’s whole values, outlook, audience demographics, USP, and tone of voice. A strong content strategy has ties across the whole experience you’re trying to portray; including user experience (UX), SEO, social media, brand awareness, tone of voice, and much more.
Developing Your Own Content Strategy
The easiest way to define your strategic needs is to ask yourself some essential questions. You basically need to look at the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your content marketing adventure.
So, let’s take a look at a few question prompts to put together a content strategy that works for you. This isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to add or remove questions depending on your needs. Remember your SMART marketing goals when thinking about these questions and have your current social and website analytics to hand too.
- Who currently frequents your website and social profiles in terms of demographics and market segment (age, gender, location, etc.)?
- Who are you looking to reach in terms of demographics and market segment? What matters most to these people within your niche?
- Who is going to make your content a reality? If it’s an internal team member, how are they going to fit content creation and promotion around their other responsibilities? If you’re going to outsource, then who are you going to outsource to?
- Who do your target audience listen to online? Which well-known influencers do they follow and trust?
- Who are you talking to in your content? What’s their level of topic understanding?
- Who else in your niche creates great content in your opinion?
- Who are your competitors? What are they doing content-wise?
- What would content marketing success look like to you?
- What are your SMART marketing goals for content marketing? What do you want to achieve?
- What topics would both make sense for you to cover AND suit the needs of your demographic/segment?
- What would an effective and prosperous content creation/publishing process look like to your organisation?
- What channels and formats do your target audience use to get new and interesting information? Blogs? Twitter? Email newsletters? Podcasts?
- What format types are you most able/well set up to publish? Blogs? Infographics? Video? Podcasts? How does this fit in with the media that your target audience consumes?
- By what yardstick are you going to judge older content and flag it for editing, rewriting, or removal?
- What tone, look, or feel is your content going to have? Why have you selected this?
- What do you want people to feel about your brand? That you’re cool? Professional? Reliable? Creative?
- What are your most direct competitors doing in terms of content?
- What kind of reach do your competitors have in terms of content? How many likes/shares/views do they achieve with each piece?
- What is your budget for content – either yearly, monthly, or per piece? This is especially important if you are thinking about outsourcing your content creation or if you are hoping to use paid promotion to drive traffic.
- When will you post content? How frequently will you post new stuff?
- When do you want to achieve your SMART goals by?
- When will you promote your content after posting? Remember to share content for as long as it’s useful!
- When are you hoping to achieve an effective creative process by?
- When will you assess whether your strategy needs to change if things don’t go as planned?
- When will you update your older content – if at all?
- When do your site and social platforms seem to gain the most traffic? Are there any usage patterns you can identify to maximise the exposure of new content?
- Where do the people you want to reach hang out online? What platforms do they use in terms of social media, content aggregators (like Flipboard, Pocket, Feedly, etc.), and overall browsing habits?
- Where are you going to publish your content? On your own site or through a given platform?
A quick sidenote about this question: Your answer here may well be influenced by the format you use and the channel(s) you’re publishing through. If you’re blogging, it’ll most likely go on your own website or perhaps through LinkedIn or Medium. Videos might be published on YouTube or Vimeo; podcasts may primarily be featured in podcatcher apps and RSS feeds; infographics may primarily be hosted on your website but may also do well on Pinterest. Look to your site and social usage data to decide where your content has the best chance of exposure.
- Where are you going to publicise your content across platforms? E.g., are you going to talk about your on-site blog on Twitter? Are you going to direct people to your YouTube video through Facebook?
- Where do your competitors and those in your niche publicise/publish both new and older content?
- Why do you want to embark on your content marketing journey? What benefits can you see? How will your actions help your audience and perhaps persuade them to work with you?
- Why will your content appeal to those who are looking for information over your competitors? How are your content topics tied to what you offer?
- Why do you want to cover the topics you want to cover? What need is there for each topic as shown by your analysis?
- How are you going to publish and publicise new releases?
- How are you going to maintain interest in older content?
- How will you get your content in front of the right people?
- How much time are you willing to put into content creation and promotion each day/week/month?
- How will your content format choices and preferences help you achieve your goals?
- How will the topics and timing of new content play into these goals?
- How are you going to measure success as you go along?
- How can you change your content plans if your goals aren’t being met?
- How do your competitors promote content across channels? Do they link to their videos on their blog? Do they promote their blogs on social media?
You may notice some overlap in these questions – this is intentional. You need to come at your content strategy from all angles, thinking about all facets of how your content is going to reach your audience and what you have to do to make that a reality.
Bringing It All Together
Though answering these questions and those like them will give you crucial data to formulate your content strategy, this isn’t the be-all and end-all of the process. Analysis, measurement, and research all play a significant part. Thoroughly research competitors to see what they’re up to content-wise and what their customers/followers seem to respond to. Additionally, if there are any companies outside of your niche whose content you appreciate, don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from what they’re doing that you like – without copying, obviously! If it works – great! If not, think how to tweak it to make it resound better with your audience.
Making decisions about what you’re going to do is one thing, but committing to consistent measurement and reacting to what your data tells you is essential – especially if it’s telling you something you don’t want to hear. Marketing is all about testing and honing until you find ideal solutions. Diarise a time when you’re going to analyse your efforts and change anything that isn’t working – in my opinion I would advise at least a cursory look over everything every 3 to 6 months. You might even want to go through all of these questions again and completely rehash your strategy from scratch!
Tools & Implementation
Use tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, social media analytics and SEO performance data to prop up any decision making. There are loads of keyword research tools out there to choose from so you can get some insight into what people are searching for; some of my personal favourites are Answer The Public, Google’s own Keyword Planner, and LSIGraph.
When you’re formulating your plan, remember to also think about your titles and meta descriptions – how are you going to grab people without seeming like clickbait? Establish rules for your content’s SEO attributes and consider platform algorithms if you’re posting through third-party services like YouTube or social media.
Whether you’re intending to use visual media or not, it’s important to know how your content is going to look and feel. Establish the tone of voice you’re going to use, and the style of any visuals. Creating a style guide makes light work of communicating what you need to a member of staff or an outsourced professional.
Of course having an editorial calendar (a “what am I going to write about and when”) is important, but all content needs to be backed up by a strong and coherent content strategy. Merely copying another’s approach isn’t a good idea, content needs and goals can be incredibly different, even between similar companies.
Look at content marketing like a road trip. When you’re planning a road trip, you don’t just drive in the destination’s general direction and hope for the best. Having a robust content strategy is like having a GPS for all of the content you create and share. When you implement a content strategy, you have a complete roadmap of where you are, where you want to be, how to get there, and what activities are going to be helpful on your journey. It helps you produce consistent quality by focusing on where you are now, what you’re trying to achieve, who you’re trying to attract, what’s realistic for your content efforts, and what options can get you there.