Content Strategy: A Complete Guide
Content strategists are usually responsible for building out content strategies; and for a good reason, as you’ll soon discover. However, depending on the organization’s size, that responsibility may rest with a senior content marketer or even an SEO specialist.
A successful content strategist is a high-level critical thinker, a communicator who can solve problems and stay organized. Solid analytical abilities, coupled with creativity, help content strategists develop high-performing content that tells a brand’s story. Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) skills help ensure the successful execution of any content plan.
What is a Content Strategy?
The textbook definition of content strategy is that it’s the planning, development, and governance (management) of all types of content, written or otherwise. A more pragmatic view is that content strategy is a plan to drive targeted inbound traffic and guide visitors through the marketing funnel.
Content is not just articles and SEO. It touches everything, including email, social media, user experience (UX), audio, and visual.
It’s used for a lot of things, including generating traffic, user engagement and communication, lead generation and nurturing, branding and loyalty, and prospecting.
Where Do You Get The Information for a Content Strategy?
Where do you get all the information necessary to develop a content strategy? There are two parts to this.
First, define the story that your organization wants to tell about its brand and expertise. Then determine whether your content builds upon that story. The story being told may not be the one you want.
You’ll need to figure out what’s the end goal and whether current efforts are getting you closer toward that goal. Content strategy aims to make the path towards the goal clearer.
Why is Content Strategy Important?
Ensuring the right story gets told is one reason why content strategy is important. Another justification is that a good plan makes the most efficient use of resources to achieve a given goal.
As search engines have evolved, content strategy has adapted to meet those changes. In the early years, when search engines could only match keywords, the strategy was simple. The focus was mainly on the page level. Write one page targeting one keyword.
Google has come a long way in understanding content. Not only does it understand relationships between people, places, and things (Google Knowlege Graph), it also understands topics (Google Topic Layer). As a result, content strategy has shifted from the page level to the site level.
When Should You Start?
Putting together a content strategy is a continuous activity as your plan needs to adapt to changes in the market and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. The best time to develop a content strategy is right now!
How MarketMuse Builds a Content Strategy
With an objective firmly in place and a good understanding of the current efforts, it’s time to dig deep into the existing content. The complexity of your strategy is irrelevant. It’s high-quality content that creates topical authority resulting in success.
High-quality content adds value to visitors by answering their questions and needs. It is topically comprehensive and connects to relevant content. You need three kinds of pages, landing, supporting articles, and pillar.
Mostly, you need to expand and optimize these content types in various ways depending on the goal. Your content strategy is going to require all of these page types (landing, pillar, and supporting) to build content clusters, which will lead to topical authority.
Landing pages are typically designed to be a point of entry that caters to a specific user intent. Their goal is to convert visitors and can also be used with paid advertising.
Article pages can fill in topical gaps and expand deeper into a specific user intent. This type of page can guide users down the marketing funnel via call-to-actions (CTAs) and linking. Other media can also support it, like videos and infographics. Article pages can be hard news, evergreen content, blogs, reviews, how-to, and interviews.
A pillar page is a long-form guide designed to cater to many different user intents. It has breadth but not depth. It touches on many topics but none in great detail. It’s a beacon for organic traffic and leads to satellite pages and landing pages.
Situations You May Encounter
No content plan is an island. You must take into account existing content and website structure. Here are some circumstances you may encounter when putting together your first content plan, along with solutions.
You may have a lot of articles with good organic traffic, yet want more traffic and to rank better for target head terms. The solution is to build pillar pages and optimize everything. The existing pages will bolster the pillar page and pass authority to it. The new pages will increase topical authority and coverage, which will increase rankings.
Get your core areas of coverage and uncover what content you have for each cluster by examining the MarketMuse Inventory. Determine user intents (ranking or not) from the cluster content.
Organize the user intents and see what would fit into a pillar page. Use the Questions and Research Apps to surface user intents that are not covered and will need to be added to the pillar.
Create a content plan. Build the pillar, optimize the satellite pages, create the new pages. Link the pillar and satellite pages together.
Many long-form pages based on the core concepts of your business. These pages have some rankings, but you want more traffic and to expand for keywords that are in-line with your business.
The solution is to optimize the pillar pages and add more user intent. Analyze each section in the Optimize App. Use the Questions App to find other questions/user intents that can be covered.
Create satellite article pages for each user intent. This allows for depth and topical coverage. Use a MarketMuse Content Brief!
Use the Research App to find long-tailed variations that could make for landing pages or articles pages.
The pillar pages are being expanded to cast a wider net (catering to more user intents), and the article pages are providing the support to pillar to boost their authority.
Your company is passionate about its industry and writes a lot of great opinion and thought leadership pieces. However, you cannot seem to get any organic traffic.
Build pillar pages to align with the industry from a top-of-the-funnel audience need.
Build satellite article pages to cater to the middle of the funnel needs. Use a MarketMuse Content Brief!
Use UX/CTAs to expose users to the thought leadership pages and landing pages.
This allows your domain to give context to search engines and visitors about your purpose and position in the industry. This provides more exposure as you start ranking for broader head terms. Visitors come in wanting to learn about X and discover your company can give them X + Y.
As part of your go-to-market strategy, you need content to help rank for keywords related to your new product. Build a foundation to own the different aspects of your product.
Build your foundation of landing pages for each persona/audience/vertical for their new product. Understand the funnel and start crafting content for each stage of the funnel. Use the Research and Questions Applications in MarketMuse to surface content ideas and build pillar pages.
Entering a new space may take a lot of time to rank well, especially if the product is completely different from your core business. The core landing pages will ensure you properly inform and convert target customers while also providing a hub for other marketing campaigns. Pillar pages and supporting content will help generate organic traffic faster and funnel traffic to the right product landing page.
While these are not the only situations in which you may find yourself, they are the most common. Every environment is unique, so your plan must reflect that reality.
Topic clustering is the practice of organizing content on a website into topically related ‘clusters.’ This is done by producing a ‘pillar’ page on a core topic and multiple additional content pages that are related to that topic. The pillar page should link to the cluster pages, and the cluster pages should link back to the pillar.
Within a sufficiently broad topic, there are many different user intents that searchers could try to accomplish through their searches. This can mean a lot of different things. Maybe a user just wants to learn how to do something specific. Or maybe they just want to find a piece of information. In other cases, they want to compare options for purchase and make a decision to buy something.
The end goal of a topic cluster is to ensure that as many possible user intents as are relevant to your business are served across your content inventory and making that content easily discoverable in your site architecture.
Ideally, your content cluster would span the entirety of the buyer’s journey, whatever that may mean for your business/website. This is how users and search engines alike determine your overall topical authority and expertise on the topics you cover.
Based on the definition above, a topic cluster has the following three components:
- Pillar Page: A pillar offers a general high-level overview of the core topic that acts as a hub, linking users to other important pieces of content on the website. This page should cover a wide range of user intents, giving readers enough value to make them click through to the appropriate next piece of content for them.
- Cluster Pages: These pages tend to focus on specific user intents that cover related topics in greater depth and with a more narrow focus.
- Links: Linking is a crucial part of building a topic cluster. Links from the cluster pages to the pillar pages are a signal to search engines that the pillar page is the most important in the group. Links from an authoritative pillar to cluster content pass authority to the rest of the cluster.
By executing these components correctly, you will have a logical, topically organized site architecture that has a high likelihood of success in driving higher rankings and more organic traffic.
Who Builds Content Clusters?
Content clusters are not limited to one business model or topic. Content strategists from all industries and business models are using content clusters to drive tangible SEO and business results.
Here are some possible applications of this approach for different businesses:
- A home-goods eCommerce retailer publishing a ‘Living Room Ideas’ pillar page and writing cluster content about specific styles, pieces of furniture, decorations, art, and anything else that fits into bringing your vision of a living room to life.
- A marketing agency publishing a pillar page on ‘Content Planning,’ with cluster pages on doing research, identifying business goals, building a content calendar, etc.
- A law firm publishing a pillar page on ‘Personal injury,’ with cluster pages on what to do if you have been injured, what you can expect from the litigation process, how to find the proper medical care, and so on.
- A tech news publisher writing a pillar page on ‘The Consumer Electronics Show,’ with cluster content on different companies that attended, cool new tech that is coming out that year, best presentations, specific trends, etc.
Each of these businesses has different business models and different uses for content in their marketing efforts. Regardless, when you are thinking in terms of topics, you’re able to use this approach to better organize your site and build authority around the concepts and topics your audience is searching for.
When Should You Build a Content Cluster?
One of the most common questions about topic clusters is, “How many pieces of content should a cluster have?”
The answer, as it so often is when it comes to SEO and content, is “It depends.”
Broad topics that have a lot of ground to cover will have dozens of pieces of content, while more niche topics could have less than 10. There is no commonly agreed-upon standard for when a group of content items becomes a cluster.
The first step to building a topic cluster is to identify a topic that your audience would likely be searching for that connects to your offerings and the problems they solve.
For example, MarketMuse is a content intelligence and strategy platform. Our content strategy is driven by an awareness of the industry we’re in and what problems we solve.
We don’t just write about content intelligence and strategy; we have clusters on topics like content optimization, content operations, topic modeling, natural language generation, content research, and so on. We even have a topic cluster on topic clusters!
Once you have identified some key topic areas, you can start building out your cluster.
The topic is way too broad. Some topics are so broad that they would suffer from trying to be all things to all people. For example, if you were developing a content strategy for a financial institution that wanted to cover ‘money management,’ you might see that this topic gets a lot of search volume and is fairly broad. You’d go about creating a pillar page and then diving into the cluster content. But this topic is so broad that even a long pillar page would run the risk of trying to be about so many things, it ends up diluted.
What to do instead: Make ‘money management’ a blog subcategory and identify more specific topics that are better candidates for a pillar/cluster setup. You could have one on budgeting, investing, banking, taxes, etc. It would all depend on what you want to promote and where content can be applied to serve users.
The topic is too niche. Long-tail topics or explicit user intent queries are not good candidates for a cluster model. For example, MarketMuse wrote an article on why TF-IDF is not appropriate for SEO. We wouldn’t have a separate cluster on TF-IDF because the relevant things we could write about on this topic are just not sufficient. Instead, it’s part of the cluster we have on SEO tools.
What to do instead: Cover the user intents you can find and link them together appropriately. From there, consider how this niche topic can fit into a broader topic that you already have a cluster on, or that you can build.
Next, we’ll look at why a strategy employing content clusters offers better opportunities than one that is keyword-based.
Why a Content Cluster Makes More Sense Than a Keyword Strategy
Prior to Google’s evolution into a semantic search engine, Google’s method of understanding content and domain quality fell largely into two buckets – keywords and links.
The search engine would serve content that contained a keyword or keyphrase in a query. It would rank these pages based on Google’s patented PageRank system, which determined the quality and authority of a page/domain based on how many other domains were linking to it.
To understand how Google analyzes and ranks content today, we have to consider three major updates to its core algorithm, Hummingbird, Quality Update, and RankBrain.
In response to rampant keyword manipulation by SEOs, Google introduced an algorithm update known as Hummingbird. Implemented in 2013, Hummingbird signaled a change in Google’s index from a collection of keyword terms to a collection of entities (people, places, things, dates, etc.). This is what is known as a Knowledge Graph.
Despite several updates to the algorithm post-Hummingbird, poor quality sites continued to rank well. Google responded by increasing the importance of key site quality signals in its rankings.
RankBrain, launched in 2015, is a machine learning engine designed to interpret the user intent behind a given query and serve the most relevant results. It improved the way Google understands the relationships between entities so that it can relate concepts that aren’t explicitly mentioned in a piece of content.
It is believed that most of the major updates Google has done for its search technology since 2015 are iterations of RankBrain. There’s one update that is worth understanding in greater depth.
On September 24, 2018, Google announced the addition of a topic layer to their Knowledge Graph. Google uses topic models to sort and prioritize the 130+ trillion web pages. Google’s topic layer analyzes all the content for a given topic, identifying hundreds or thousands of subtopics and their relational patterns. The rise of voice search, where people query search engines not based on keywords but real questions and statements, is having a marked impact on how Google is evolving its search capabilities.
The aim of the topic layer is that Google wants to tailor its results to potential intent profiles based on someone searching for a particular topic. With the Topic Layer, Google’s engineers are trying to provide semantically related concepts that help get searchers to the next step in their search journey.
It can be considered an automatic topic outline that dynamically changes depending on the search query.
Topics, Not Keywords
For SEOs and content strategists, the upshot of Google’s evolution can be summed up fairly quickly: Topics, not keywords.
Google’s evolution away from being a keyword-focused search engine and toward a semantic and topic-focused engine means that the traditional ways of thinking about how to prioritize content are no longer as useful or relevant.
Most content strategists use metrics like Monthly Search Volume, Keyword Difficulty, and Domain Authority to gauge which content ideas are important and worth pursuing. The first metric, in particular, remains a major data point for content decisions.
The problem with this approach is that most sources of MSV data provide only the keywords that get trackable search volume, which out of the billions of searches that happen every day, is fewer than 10% of everything people are searching for.
Keywords and their associated volumes will never be a reliable roadmap to what it means to be ‘about’ a topic, nor will they tell you the true potential of a piece of content. An authoritative piece of content on an authoritative domain can get significant organic traffic even on supposedly low-volume keywords.
Beyond that, most thin content on the web was written by someone writing to a specific keyword and not thinking about how to cover a topic as an expert on a subject would. Keywords can give you some direction, but they are woefully inadequate when it comes to considering all of the angles one could take on a topic and then covering each of them in sufficient detail.
On the flip side, thinking in terms of topics will give you a much wider range of possibilities for interesting and useful content that directly maps to what your business does and, more crucially, to what your audience wants to learn and do.
How Do You Use MarketMuse to Build a Content Cluster?
MarketMuse is built on topic modeling technology that makes it possible to identify and create topic clusters. The content Inventory within the platform gives you the ability to slice and dice your site from a Pages and Topics perspective and identify clusters or parts of clusters that already exist on your site. The Applications give you the tools you need to do topic research and find ways to find new content ideas and improve on existing content.
Review your content inventory to determine which pages already exist
- Go into the Pages section of your MarketMuse Inventory
- Identify possible pillar pages. There are a number of ways to do this using the filters in the inventory. Here are some of the criteria you can use:
- Are they ranking for the head term you care about? Look at the ‘Top Related Topic’ assigned to the page.
- Are they covering a wide variety of user intents and ranking for a lot of different topics? Look at ‘Topics.’
- Are they linking out to a lot of pages/are other relevant pages linking to them? Look at ‘In-Content Internal Links’ – pillar pages should have a high number of internal links.
- Do they have a high Authority Score? Sort by ‘Authority’ to identify pages with authority on their topics.
- Does MarketMuse identify them as ‘High Authority Pages’? Filter by ‘Insights’ to discover these pages.
- Identify cluster pages.
- Use the ‘URL’ and ‘Term’ Filters and search bar to identify pages that mention your desired topic in their titles or URL. This should give you a sense of what pages are talking about the topic to some extent.
- Open the Page Cards by clicking on the pages.
- Which pages are not showing target content scores for their best-matched focus topic?
- This is a great place to start improving your clusters quickly.
- Optimize these pages in the MarketMuse Optimize Application, or order an Optimize brief to get a detailed outline of how you can restructure your page and better cover the page’s focus topic.
Review your topics in the topic area you care about.
- Go into the Topics section of your MarketMuse Inventory.
- Use Filters to drill down to the specific words and concepts you want to work on.
- Which ones are associated with pages that are ranking well?
- Which ones are showing positive Opportunity Scores, Authority Scores, and Personalized Difficulty?
- As an additional metric, which ones have search volume?
- Which topics are associated with a page that they are not really about? Look at the ‘Top Related Page.’ Is that page ranking well for the topic you’re looking at? Is that page really about that topic?
- If not, you have a possible Intent Mismatch. This occurs when a page is ranking for something it isn’t really about. By creating a page specifically for the mismatched topic, you can leverage that existing authority into a quick win and jump ahead in the rankings.
- Click into the Topic Card to get a sense of the page’s Content Score relative to the topic, the seasonality of searches for the topic, and the competitive landscape around the topic.
- Keep in mind that if you are looking for problem-focused content, you may have to broaden your search beyond just variations of your focus topic.
- Once you have identified the topics you want to create new content on, order a MarketMuse Content Brief on the topic to start executing on it.
Use the Applications to surface even more cluster ideas.
- Once you have combed through your Inventory for what already exists, you can use the Applications to surface new ideas.
- Enter your core topic into Research and click ‘Run.’
- Look at the topic model and identify semantically and conceptually related topics upon which you can build new content. Add these to your inventory and wait for the metrics to populate so you can get a sense of what your potential for success is on these new topics.
- If you have an existing pillar page, enter the URL along with the focus topic to understand where your current page has gaps. These can help you expand pillar page coverage and find new topics to cover.
- Enter your core cluster topic into Compete. If you have an existing pillar on the topic, add the URL.
- Look at the Competitive Heatmap to see how well the competitive landscape is covering the topic based on the topic model.
- The Heatmap will show you commonly covered topics, which are table stakes for success on the topic. It also shows you gaps in competitive coverage, which provide you with a great opportunity to write differentiated content and expand your coverage beyond what other companies are offering.
- Cluster pages are a great opportunity to answer specific questions users might have on your topic.
- Run your focus topic in the Questions application and see what questions come up. These are focused, specific user intents that must be covered to sufficiently fill out your cluster.
- Try some variations of your focus topic and see what new questions get surfaced. There are ample opportunities to go down the rabbit hole with Questions!
Building content clusters can be a powerful way to really “own” a topic from a search perspective. It’s a matter truly understanding all of the dimensions of a topic and providing content that not only answers a specific user intent, but gives that searcher the means of answering their next question with more content on your site.
Building a Content Outline
A content outline is used by writers to ensure their output fulfills the goals of the content strategist. Usually, it’s created by a content strategist or editorial manager.
Imagine you were responsible for writing the article “How to Write a Blog Post for SEO.” While there are many different approaches one could take, that flexibility can result in misdirection, multiple re-writes, and a mediocre outcome. To combat the situation, many content publishers use content outlines.
What is a Content Outline?
For most people, a content outline consists of a title and subsections, along with bullet points for items of discussion. While some direction is better than none, high-performing content publishers realize this type of outline does not scale well.
The problem is that the lack of information fails to address many other concerns. The best content outlines seamlessly combine editorial direction and content strategy to ensure every piece of content is both well-written and primed to drive SEO results.
These information-rich content outlines are what we refer to as content briefs.
Every company has its own way of creating content briefs, and there are many valid approaches. In our experience, however, we’ve noticed that many content briefs fail to hit the sweet spot between providing solid editorial guidance and correct SEO requirements.
Some briefs are full of important editorial guidelines, with little in the way of SEO insights. Others give the writers title tags and meta descriptions, linking recommendations and anchor text, and of course, the dreaded keyword list, but fail to provide useful editorial direction.
How to Create a Content Outline
The time required to create a content outline or brief is a function of the amount of detail contained within the document. The process of building content briefs has historically been a manual process for content strategists. Even with a template, however, content briefs can take hours to complete properly.
The process generally involves using a keyword tool to find “focus” keywords and related keywords to be incorporated in some form in the piece of content. From there, the content marketer needs to:
- Determine the audience or buyer personas
- Define the objectives of the content
- Designate a style guide
- Stipulate the desired word count,
- Establish appropriate external and internal links
- Anything else pertinent for successful deliverables.
And this is just for one piece of content. As you might imagine, this does not scale very well when you try to ramp up content production. Even if you outsource this process to an SEO or content marketing agency, you’re still on the hook for ensuring that all of your content briefs are up to the standard you’ve set.
How MarketMuse Builds Its Content Briefs
AI-generated content briefs from MarketMuse contain all the pertinent information, automatically gathered and organized in a repeatable, reliable way. Rather than spending hours each week building briefs by hand, you can spend more time on research that drives the strategy, finding optimization opportunities, and reporting on growth.
We call our outlines content briefs because of all the data we include. A MarketMuse Content Brief contains the following data points generated by our AI:
- Title and subtitle suggestions
- User intent of the specific piece of content relative to the topic
- The audiences the content needs to speak to
- Semantically related topics that give writers a roadmap to be comprehensive without stuffing keywords into content.
- Internal and external linking suggestions that are topically relevant but not competitive with your content.
- The questions that should be answered in a piece of content – especially important now that Google is focused on answering user questions.
In addition to being a potent mix of editorial and SEO guidance, MarketMuse Content Briefs can be produced at scale to match your current and aspirational content cadence. Once they are created, you can provide access to your writers or send them a shareable link if they are outside your organization.
How to Map User Intents to Build Content Briefs and Plans
Identifying user intents and being able to map a given focus topic to an intent is critical for building content briefs and entire content plans.
Topic Ambiguity vs. Intent Fracture vs. Explicit Intent
The first thing to identify with a given focus topic is if you’re dealing with topic disambiguation, fractured intent, and explicit intent.
Topic ambiguity is caused by the vagueness of language that leads to a query giving results for multiple things.
The term ‘Apple’ refers to a consumer electronics company, as well as a fruit.
‘Bat’ can refer to baseball bats, the animal, British American Tobacco, Basic Attention Tokens, etc.
‘IDF’ may refer to:
- Israel Defense Forces, the military forces of the State of Israel
- Israeli Diving Federation, a non-governmental SCUBA diving training organization based in Israel
- Iceland Defense Force, the military command of the United States Armed Forces from 1951 to 2006
- Indian Defence Force, a part-time defense force established as part of the Indian Army in 1917
- Interaction Design Foundation, a non-profit educational organization
- International Diabetes Federation, a worldwide alliance of diabetes associations
- International DOI Foundation, the developer of the digital object identifier
An intent fracture occurs when there are multiple reasons for searching for a given topic. This tends to be the case for general/head terms that usually have high monthly search volumes.
The query ‘CRM software’ has a lot of different intents within this topical area. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Definitions of CRM
- CRM software vendors
- CRM for specific use cases
- CRM best practices
- CRM industry news
The query “CRM software” cannot be mapped to a specific phase in the buying cycle or user journey – it covers all of them. Thus, a pillar page on the topic of CRM software would also need to cover all of the intents. A plan built around this pillar page would also need to cover all of these intents as a cluster.
Explicit intent is the easiest because only one reason exists for the query. These queries tend to be focused and specific, and thus, they can be more easily mapped to a given phase in the user journey.
‘What size of hubcaps go on a 1972 Ford Pinto?’ – the user is asking for something very specific. They have identified their problem, determined their intent for a search, and are actively seeking specific information.
We could map this to the Consideration phase while ensuring we also have content that maps to the Purchase phase. A good companion content brief to this could be ‘Hubcaps for 1972 Ford Pinto.’
The Pitfalls of Favored Intent
When it comes to intent, the major flaw in most SEOs/Content Strategists’ thinking is that Google’s favored intent – the intent that shows up on the first page of the SERPs in the results and Featured Snippets – is the only intent they need to consider. This is letting the tail wag the dog.
A favored intent isn’t necessarily the only intent. In fact, unified favored intent can often conceal a high degree of intent fracture.
Take a look at the search results for ‘anthropomorphism. It would indicate that the intent is unified; all top 10 results are definitions. But it would be wrong to assume that all you need to rank is to create a better definition page.
A content strategist would know that they need to build an inventory and infrastructure that positions them as the expert on the term. Specifically, building a cluster of content that satisfies all of the intents in this topical area. Only then can they write a piece that defines the word anthropomorphism – and thus meets Google’s favored intent – and have it be a highly ranked piece.
This is what Google is looking for – sites that demonstrate authority by targeting keyword variants that cover all of the user intents in the topical area and links them together with a logical cluster-based linking strategy. Topics, not keywords.
In that vein, your pillar piece with a focus on “Anthropomorphism” should also cover those other intents, albeit at more of a 101 level, while providing links to cluster content that goes into greater depth on the long-tail variants/intents.
Five User Intent Mapping Tips
- Always check your content inventory to determine if an existing page matches a targeted intent. If so, order an Optimize Brief for this page.
- A pillar page requires many intents to be satisfied, which should be reflected in your content brief.
- Supporting pages typically address more specific intents. It’s usually easier to map the topic one-to-one with a specific intent.
- If the topic is heavily fractured, you will need multiple content briefs.
- Consolidate based on intent grouping where possible. For example, you don’t need separate pages for “Best CRM software” and “Top CRM software.” Those serve the same intent. It’s not about creating/optimizing a single page for a 1-to-1 relationship with every possible keyword variant. It’s about comprehensively covering all intent groupings.
Building The Content Team and Process
Content strategy creates a direction for your website to tell a specific narrative and accomplish specific goals such as increasing page views, increasing time on site, decreasing bounce rate, and increasing organic rank, which can be a daunting task. In order to accomplish this, you need some players, those who can help you execute an effective content strategy.
The Content Team
So, who are these players? You need direct roles to fill who will execute the content strategy and the content itself and indirect functions that work with the players in the direct positions to market the content. The need for a team will also change depending on the size of the company/content directive.
What we’re looking at are fundamental roles. Whether one person fulfills more than one function, or you have a 1:1, each position below offers a significant purpose in building an effective content strategy.
Content Strategist – the person who actually builds the strategy and continues to iterate on the approach using data from the analyst. This person works with the Content Manager to prioritize the content based on insight gained from the data.
Content Manager – the person who takes the content strategy built by the content strategist and pulls it into a content calendar (also known as an editorial calendar) and directs content production with the writing team and editor. The content manager should have a substantial SEO background as this person will also build content outlines for writing direction.
Editor – the individual who edits the content created prior to publication. They ensure the content follows brand guidelines (usually built by the brand marketing team).
Writing team – These are content creators. They take the direction of the content manager to execute on content topics within a content calendar. You can have internal writers and/or external writers who are freelance or through an agency.
SEO – The SEO collaborates with the content strategist to ensure the technical health of a website. For a content strategist, you will work on not only determining what content to create, what to optimize, but also what content to trash. A strategist is also interested in content that isn’t thriving, but its quality is good. So, what’s the problem? Well, an SEO will do audits to help determine issues with pages, when it’s non-content related.
Digital Marketer – This individual takes completed and published content and uses different mediums to promote the content. Much of the data collected by strategies that the digital marketer employs defines the direction of the content strategy.
Analyst – The person with the data of how content is performing paired product usage metrics is the fuel that the content strategist uses to drive the strategy. This data also helps the content manager decide HOW content direction should be employed. If one topic did very well across several mediums, then it could be that the content manager decided to create a campaign out of it.
Designer/Engineer – Content living on a site does not always look the same. It is the job of the content manager paired with the marketing team to enlist the design and engineering teams on building content vehicles that encourage user interaction.
The Content Production Process
A well-built content creation process changes based on the size of a content strategy and its execution time. Content production varies from five pieces of content a month for small operations to 15 a month for medium-sized enterprises, and 30 a month for large production. Obviously, there will be outliers, but for most content teams, your process will fall within one of these buckets.
Each content production process requires:
- A budget
- A content outline for each piece of content
- A first draft
- An edited draft
- A re-write draft
- A published piece
What to take into account when determining what bucket you are in/what resources you would need to be in one of the below buckets:
- Quality of content (a well built content outline can take anywhere from 1-5 hours to create depending on the difficulty of the topic. An outline is the pinnacle of the content creation process as it drives everything else below)
- Length of content (average long-form content is ~2,000 words. Since many agencies charge per word, the cost of executing content can drastically change based on requirements)
- Difficulty of material (it takes much longer to research and write technical content than it does non-technical content)
- Spend on writers (level of content difficulty and quality of content will determine your spend on writers. The more difficult a topic, without a well-built outline, you are looking at weeks to build a piece of content. An hourly rate for a writer can range from $20/hour – $100 per hour if freelance. Also, keep in mind that agencies charge per word, and the more difficult the content, the higher that rate will reach).
The Cost of Content Production
Let’s go through each scenario and talk about how the content production process works for non-technical content with a minimum content outline (most people don’t know what direction to take with outlines, so through keyword research, they build a rough guess and pair that with brand guidelines) and average quality content.
The total cost of content production needs to account for more than just the cost of a writer. Here is a rough estimate on the average time for execution and cost for one piece of content
- Outline creation = 2 hours per outline @ $50 per hour = $100
- First Draft execution time = 4 hours per piece @ $40 per hour = $160
- Editorial execution time = 2 hours per piece @ $60 per hour = $120
- Re-write draft execution time = 1 hour per piece @ $40 per hour = $40
Total time to execute on one piece of content: 9 hours, ~2-5 days taking into account back and forth
Total cost per piece: $420
5 content pieces per month:
- Time to execution: 5-6 days of full production
- Cost: $2,100
15 content pieces per month:
- Time to execution: 16-17 days of full production
- Cost: $6,300
30 content pieces per month:
- Time to execution: 33-34 days of full production
- Cost: $12,600
With the above in mind, it can get expensive to create high-quality content. The essential factor in all this is the outline. A well-built framework will define how the rest of your writing process turns out. It also determines how search engines and users react to your content.
Building a content outline can be a black box because on-page factors are not as cut and dry as off-page SEO factors. Content requirements are much less definitive, and therefore, companies such as MarketMuse have built systems that reverse engineer search engine algorithm requirements into outlines with clear cut optimization direction. At MarketMuse, these outlines are called Briefs.
Building your own brief can be time-consuming, and you may be misdirecting the content. For most strategists, building one strong content outline can take anywhere from 1-5 hours. For challenging and competitive topics, it can take many more hours and more people to develop and validate content direction. Even with this time, it’s still a “best guess” on what content direction will be successful.
Creating content that’s comprehensive and high-quality requires a significant amount of resources. Keep this in mind when building your content team and content process. It doesn’t have to be super stressful or expensive; there are companies like MarketMuse that can help lighten the load, reduce your expenditure on the shoulders of concrete data, and give you the best optimization direction.
Content Performance Evaluation
Content is never created just for its own sake. It has to drive business-critical metrics to be worth the investment. That’s why content strategists and SEOs need to track a variety of content performance metrics.
Content performance metrics are quantitative measures of how well your content is performing in pursuit of your wider marketing and business goals. Tracking these metrics can help you understand how your content is performing at a given point in time, as well as show you your progress over a period of time.
Who are Content Performance Metrics for?
Of course, your marketing team is going to be concentrating on what their performance metrics are showing, but content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Beyond the content team, content strategists and marketing leaders are also ultimately responsible for proving the value of content to the rest of the business.
A content team might be concerned with metrics like rankings, traffic, engagement, conversions, quality, etc. A sales team will be interested in understanding how your content impacts pipeline, sales cycle velocity, sales qualified leads, direct sales, and other sales-focused metrics. Customer success teams might want to understand how support and post-purchase content impact customer retention and lifetime value.
Regardless of who is tracking content performance, make sure the KPIs are realistic. Track them in a way that is valuable for the business as a whole.
What Content Performance Metrics Should You Track?
It’s impossible to give a comprehensive list of every possible metric you should track. Ultimately, the metrics you choose to track and the KPIs you and your team set will depend on what’s important to your particular business. That said, certain metrics tend to be useful in most situations.
Here are some you can start using to improve content performance today broken down by where you can find them.
Relative Share of Organic Traffic – Google Analytics breaks traffic acquisition into several categories. Tracking the percentage of traffic that comes from organic channels over time can be a great way to show the effectiveness of your content strategy.
Pages per Session – Pages per Session is a measure of how many pages users visit during a session. The higher your Pages per Session, particularly for users who enter the site through your content pages, the more likely it is that your content is effectively pushing users to the appropriate next step in their journey.
Time on Page/Site – You can drill down to specific pages on your site to see how much time users are spending on a piece of content. This can tell you how well your content is holding the attention of users. Similarly, Time on Site shows how much time users spend on your site during a session. If you can show that users who enter the site through your content tend to spend more time on the site as a whole and click through to other areas, that is a positive indicator of content success.
Bounce Rate – Bounce rate measures how often users enter your site and then leave without taking action. A high bounce rate can be an indication that a page does not give the user a clear next step. It can also be an indication that the page is not meeting the user’s expectations.
Assisted Conversions – This shows the content users interact with on their way to taking valuable action on your site. That could mean anything from signing up to an email list to starting a free trial and booking a demo. You’ll need to set up Conversions in your Google Analytics profile.
Content Quality – Content quality is increasingly important in driving organic search results. MarketMuse’s Content Score is a quantitative measure of how well a piece of content covers its focus topic and gives you a target score to hit so that you know when your content is best in class on whatever topic it covers.
Topical Authority – MarketMuse Authority Scores are a powerful metric that gives you insight into how search engines would view your content in terms of how authoritative you are on the topic. It’s a great way to see how well you’ve covered not just that particular topic, but related ones as well.
Competitive Rankings – Both tools offer a competitive gap feature that gives you a way to see how well you are ranking for topics relative to your competitors. It is also a great way to see where your gaps in coverage are. Tracking this over time shows you how much progress you are making in overtaking competitors and incumbents on the topics that matter to you.
SERP Feature capture – SERP features are increasingly taking up SERP real estate. For example, capturing a Featured Snippet is the new “position 1,” which means you can gain significant traffic if you capture one on a key topic. Gaining traction in SERP feature capture is a signal that your content is particularly aligned to the user intent of the SERP you’re targeting.
Other metrics matter as well, such as marketing and sales qualified leads, sales cycle velocity, pipeline created, and more. Getting to these metrics requires working with your sales team to surface this data in your CRM and marketing automation software. These are also remarkably important KPIs to prove the business value of content.
Assembling Your Content Toolkit
A content toolkit contains all the systems required to conduct the level of analysis you need for your domain. From small companies to large, toolkits will vary. Below are all the different tools content strategists use to conduct their analysis and why.
While off-page factors are important, on-page factors need to be considered if you want to create the best successful content. These factors are baked into search engine algorithm requirements, which companies such as MarketMuse have identified through analysis of those algorithms behaviors. Thus they’ve built algorithms of their own to define and surface those requirements in a user-friendly way. Content optimization is the newer SEO requirement. Don’t skimp on this evaluation!
Tracking keyword performance through rank analysis is a tried and tested way to understand how your content is performing and also how your content strategy is performing. However, it’s important to remember the granular insight into a rank is a singular way to assess performance. As with a varied toolkit, your KPIs should also be vast and varied.
This tool provides rank tracking and authority based on backlinks. Backlinks are off-page factors, but understanding the depth of a page’s backlink profile will help you better direct your content strategy and manage expectations for performance. At times, very authoritative domains will carry a better rank (even with bad content). But, if you build content strategically, you can knock those domains from the higher ranks!
This is also an off-page factor. This tool will show you all of your pages and a deep set of data such as broken links, no follow pages, broken pages, internal links, external links, etc. A technically healthy domain allows a content strategy to flourish. Without addressing this, your content may not even be seen by search engines.
Deeper than rank is actual clicks, views, and conversions. The first step is to get a page to rank well. That’s the bare minimum. Getting people to click on your page, spending time with your content, and get value out of your content is another story. A deeper look into the way users are engaging with your content will help you make sounder content decisions.
Another off-page factor important to content strategy is understanding what content people are connecting with through social channels. Digital marketers will take content and run it through several different social channels. Search Engines consider social cues when tagging pages as valuable or invaluable. Using social signals as a data point when building a content strategy will immediately provide you with insight into the shareability of content. Adjust your strategy accordingly.
A share-friendly tool for a faster content production operation.
- Docs for writing content
- Sheets for Content Calendars/Planning
- Slides for Performance Presentations
Use this tool to catch easy grammar mistakes so editors can spend more time focused on heavier editorial edits. This tool will save time. Grammarly also works very well with live tools such as MarketMuse. As you build content in the system, your Grammarly gives you proofreading recommendations in real-time in the space you are creating optimized content.
Monitoring of customer experience with content. Google Analytics will show you time on page and bounce rate. But, just data can only go so far. When someone arrives at your page, what is their behavior? Watch people as they interact with your content. It’s the best way to understand where your content is strong and where it falls short.
Remember, each one of these systems will have overlapping data, and since each tool collects and defines their data differently, no one tool will have the same information. It is completely possible to use just one tool, but it’s important to test different systems to see what works for you.
There are also many more tools in each category above, but the ones listed are the ones MarketMuse strategists use!
Below, you’ll find a rundown on the MarketMuse competitive landscape. Look through the competitive analysis and make your own decisions on what works best for you!
Looking for MarketMuse alternatives can be an exercise in frustration. Results on the first page of Google frequently get our competitors wrong. To save you from further exasperation, we’ve put together a list of MarketMuse alternatives and competitors.
This page offers a summary of how each platform differs, along with links to detailed comparisons. MarketMuse provides workflows for the entire content life cycle, specifically:
- Content Strategy
- Content Research
- Content Creation
- Content Optimization
- Natural Language Generation
So, it’s through this lens that we’ll compare MarketMuse to the various alternatives.
If you’ve ever built content plans and content briefs manually, you know it’s time-consuming. Searching the Web and manually constructing how best to represent a topic isn’t something you can push out in a couple of minutes.
Not only do we speed this process up significantly, but the content plans we create are several orders of magnitude more effective than what a human can put together. Imagine analyzing a site with over 300,000 pages of content that’s ranking for over 110,000 keywords. MarketMuse did this and identified over 2Mn insights for how to improve the site’s content.
MarketMuse is the only one to offer AI-driven content plans, content briefs, and a suite of applications purpose-built for content strategists.
With these competitive products you’re still stuck with:
- Manual workflows using keyword research tools and SEO platforms
- Content strategies built-in spreadsheets
- Content briefs produced through manual research
When it comes to natural language generation (NLG), MarketMuse First Draft is unique in this regard. None of these MarketMuse competitors can generate long-form content, or any content for that matter, using NLG.
If MarketMuse were a saw, Ahrefs would be a hammer. That’s why it’s hard comparing the two. Ahrefs is well-known for its extensive backlink index, other data, and tools that are much appreciated by SEOs. But it knows nothing about your content. Unlike MarketMuse, Ahrefs wasn’t designed to help with content strategy, research, creation, and optimization.
Prior to Clearscope, their founders were customers of MarketMuse. What can we say? We’re flattered!
While MarketMuse has gone on to break new ground with First Draft natural language generation, not to mention our Content Briefs and other applications for content strategy, research, and creation, Clearscope is still essentially a content optimizer.
For the small difference in price, MarketMuse offers far more value
Frase offers several tools to “create SEO content with a Question-driven strategy.” There are no workflows to help with content strategy because, unlike MarketMuse, it lacks in-depth knowledge of your content and that of your competitors.
Frase extracts information from a minimal set of documents. Thus, content research isn’t as robust as MarketMuse. Data quality provided by Frase is similarly lacking, resulting in a less than optimal optimization experience.
Finally, their content briefs are long on observations, and short on actionable insight. With no structure and very little guidance, writers need to be well-versed in SEO.
Poor data quality and fidelity provide for a subpar experience.
Ryte has a tool that is supposed to help “plan and write better content.” But they just can’t seem to get it right, pun intended.
Really, what they have is a content optimizer, and a poor one at that. Their recommendations rely on TF-IDF, which is a primitive approach. We’ve written previously about the limitations of TF-IDF so we won’t repeat them here.
Their optimizer is the only content-centric tool that they offer. They have no workflows for content strategy, research or creation, and no content briefs.
You get what you pay for. MarketMuse offers far more value.
SEMRush is a platform beloved by many SEOs the world over. It’s rich in data and features, but lacking in other essential aspects.
- Its workflows are cumbersome
- There is no content planning
- There are no personalized metrics
- Content briefs are basic and of limited value
- Writer’s can’t use the optimization tool to check their work
- The optimization experience is cumbersome.
This popular SEO tool falls short when it comes to content strategy, research, creation, and optimization.
BrightEdge is a popular Enterprise-level SEO platform. It has all the typical features one would expect in software dedicated to search engine optimization. But when it comes to content, that’s another story. BrightEdge employs no semantic similarity technology, and its content recommendations are basic on-page optimization suggestions. There are no AI-driven content plans, content briefs, or any other applications built specifically for content strategists.
BrightEdge is devoid of any AI-driven content plans, content briefs, and applications purpose-built for content strategists.
Conductor is another enterprise offering that is very good at rank tracking. It offers several features in this regard, but like BrightEdge, the focus is not on content and strategy. The content briefs are primitive and offer little guidance to help writers craft expert-level content. Plus, there are no content plans available, AI-driven, or otherwise.
Conductor lacks substantive resources to help content strategists and their teams produce best-in-class content.
Similar to other Enterprise SEO dashboards, SearchMetrics can track pages and keyword rankings, which can be used alongside manual processes to build content strategies. SearchMetrics Content Experience does produce content briefs, but the quality of data is poor. Their data-driven insights aren’t profound and will lead you to make inferior decisions.
SearchMetrics substandard quality of data can lead content strategists to make poor choices.
While some of these tools can play an essential role in your content marketing stack, MarketMuse is the only AI-driven content intelligence platform that knows your content and provides smart recommendations. For real actionable insight, try MarketMuse today!