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Content Strategy Basics: Getting Started

12 min read

If you’re new to content marketing, the whole process is probably looking pretty intimidating right now. While content strategy definitions are a dime a dozen, execution is another story. There are so many moving parts and so many things for which to plan. 

What kind of content are you going to create? Which topics will you cover? Which social media platforms are right for your brand? And who are you writing for, anyway?

As a budding content strategist. The important thing to remember is not to try to do everything all at once. Instead, take your content marketing strategy step-by-step and start with the basics. 

Here’s how.

Start With Content ROI

When you think return on investment (ROI), you probably think bottom-line numbers. And while that’s true for Sales or Product Development, it’s not always the case for content marketing, which can be measured by a number of benchmarks. 

That includes a real monetary return on investment, of course. But it also includes content analytics, conversion rates and even media exposure.

That’s because your content isn’t solely created to make your business money, at least not directly. Here are a few ideas about how content can contribute:

  • Raising brand awareness.
  • Attracting new customers.
  • Establishing thought leadership.
  • Strengthening customer loyalty.
  • Guiding prospects through the sales funnel.
  • Introducing new products or services. 

All of these business goals will make money for the business eventually, but the content itself isn’t always generating immediate revenue.

The point is, there are so many reasons to create content. It stands to reason there is more than one way to measure its success. Just make sure your content strategy aligns with your overall business goals.

Content Analytics

Your analytics can tell you a lot about the success of your content and how it’s affecting your bottom line. It all depends on what your goal is for your content.

With your analytics, you can measure pageviews, scroll depth, bounce rate, time on page, number of shares and demographic information about your users.

If your content goal is to raise awareness of your brand, simply looking at page views and shares might suffice. 

If you want to increase advertising impressions and sell more advertising, time on page, scroll depth and bounce rate will be important to you. After all, if your users aren’t staying on your page, they’re not seeing your ads.


And speaking of conversions, there are a few ways your content can help you get more, and a few ways to measure its success.

First, there are direct conversions, those who click on a CTA button and either buy something, sign up for your service or subscribe to your newsletter. They may come through a landing page or piece of content they found through search, through a paid advertisement or through an email.

The important thing to track is where exactly users are converting, because that’s where you should be concentrating your time and effort. 

Measuring click-throughs on your CTA buttons can tell you how your content is affecting your sales and conversions.

Your content can also make conversions in a less direct way, by guiding users through the sales funnel before they decide to purchase or sign up.

You can measure that by looking at page views of different kinds of content made for different stages of the sales funnel and then compare it to the click-through and conversion rates from those pages.


Of course, you can look at the money your content generates directly, as well. If your goal is to generate ad revenue or revenue from content sponsorship, you just have to make sure you’re getting enough pageviews, time on page and shares to pique the interest of sponsors and get them to buy space. 

Aspiring content marketers erroneously believe that organic traffic is free. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Often overlooked are the costs associated with inbound marketing. That includes the investment required to create, publish and maintain content. 

Even user-generated content comes with a price. Although the costs of creating content is zero, the editing costs associated with this type of content can be substantial.

All things equal, higher costs mean lower ROI. Marketers should be aim to keep costs contained while producing the best-quality content possible. 

What Is Considered Good ROI?

While a lot of marketing, content and finance departments ask this question, there’s no definite answer. That’s because it all really depends on your company’s content goals.

As I mentioned in the previous section, your content goals should match your business goals. If you want to become a thought leader in your industry, your content should be thorough and well-researched; even written by industry experts.

By doing that, your content will be looked upon favorably by both users and search engines. Using a clipping service will help you track when your content is quoted as an expert source. A service like Moz can help you track backlinks, to see how often other sites are linking to your content.

The number of citations and backlinks you need to reach success is something the stakeholders in your company will have to determine.

Your goal may be to get recognition from influencers that boosts your sales, or backlinks from major industry publications that sends more people to your site.

Whatever they are, your goals should be well-defined, measurable and attainable. In a word, create SMART goals.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely

For example, let’s say you’re a brand new online service trying to raise awareness. A stated content goal might look something like this:

To raise awareness about our service, we will produce 15 pieces of long-form content in 30 days. The content will be posted to our blog and shared on Instagram and Pinterest using compelling infographics and imagery. With this content, we hope to get 50 views per week in the following three months, along with 100 likes and pins per week.

This has real numbers and a solid timeline from which to measure its success. The goal benchmarks are pretty realistic, as well. And the actions the business will take to attain this goal are spelled out clearly.

Buyer Personas and User Intent

You’ll notice in the goal above that I mentioned specific social platforms through which the company will reach their audience. But how do they know where to concentrate their efforts? And, even though I didn’t mention it in the statement, the company will have to decide what kind of content they’re going to create and what topics they’ll cover.

But how do they do all that? They’re going to have to create clear buyer personas and determine the search intent of their average user (or buyer).

What Is a Buyer Persona and How Do You Create One?

A buyer persona is like a character sketch. If you’ve ever tried to write a story, even just for high school English class, you know you have to plan out your main characters.

  • What is their gender identity?
  • What do they do for work?
  • Where do they live?
  • Are they single or do they have a family?
  • What are their religious beliefs, interests, hobbies and political affiliations?

The more questions you ask and answer about your character the easier it is to plot their actions, motives, thoughts and feelings.

The same is true of your customers. By collecting and analyzing the demographic and psychographic data on your current or target audience, you can create your own character sketch, or buyer persona.

Come up with a name for your persona. Talk about them as if they’re a real person with all of the dominant attributes of your target audience. 

By doing that, you can better understand the kinds of content your audience is interested in such as blog posts, infographics and videos. Plus you’ll discover where and how they consume that content.

What Is User Intent?

Once you’ve established a buyer persona, you can start to think about user intent. User intent is simply the reason why someone types a query into Google. 

For example, a user might be interested in content about care for thinning hair. But there are all kinds of thinning hair problems, and your target audience might be looking only for one specific subtopic. Do they want thinning hair for men or women? Are they older or younger? Are they looking for information about thinning hair caused by a medical issue?

This is how you begin to choose your topics and subtopics; your long-tail keywords and your secondary keywords.

Your topics and keywords are instrumental in your content planning. Knowing those will help you plan how much and what kinds of content to create, and if you’ll create standalone pieces or content clusters.

Topics and Content Clusters

Topic research is key to winning at search for competitive topics. To truly compete for your topic in search, marketers must:

  • Evaluate the competitive landscape.
  • Measure content performance at the topic, page and site level consistently.
  • Understand weaknesses and gaps in coverage.
  • Provide their team with insights and analyses essential for creating a comprehensive plan for gaining authority on their topic.
Get your first MarketMuse Topic Report.

The more well-researched, in-depth content you have on a topic, the more favorably you’re looked upon by search engines and users alike. In a lot of cases, it makes sense to create content clusters to cover a topic fully and give you domain authority.

When you create a content cluster, you are taking a larger topic like thinning hair and creating what’s called a pillar piece. That piece will cover the subject in general and lead to other pieces that address more specific aspects of thinning hair. 

You may have other pieces on the causes of thinning hair, aging and thinning hair, how to make thinning hair look thicker, etc. Then you link all of those pieces back to your pillar piece. Medical sites like the Mayo Clinic and WebMD use this strategy to cover all aspects of illnesses and their treatments.

Content clusters serve two purposes. First, they demonstrate a willingness to provide the kinds of content users are looking for, but fully covering the intent of users’ searches. 

Google and other search engines look for quality content like this when rating sites and placing them in search results. So a good part of your search engine optimization strategy should involve creating expert-level content.

Second, when search bots crawl your site and find a number of internal links to related content, it helps them build a bigger picture of your content offering. The purpose of your content is now clearer to Google and other search engines and they can rate you more easily

Content cluster example.

The number of pieces in a content cluster depends on the depth of the topic. Just remember, the more linked pieces you have, the more identifiable you are to search engines and the more content you have for users to linger over.

Creating and Optimizing Content at Scale

I know what you’re thinking at this point: “This is a lot to wrap my head around. How do I do all this at scale?” Start by reading creating high-quality content at scale for more details on the issues and challenges you need to address. 

An AI-powered content intelligence like MarketMuse Suite can help. This end-to-end content workflow solution is designed to help mid-level and enterprise organizations create expert-level content at scale. Here’s how MarketMuse Suite helps content strategists create more powerful topic clusters.

Research Application – Identify related topics for the cluster

Topics Inventory – MarketMuse maintains an inventory of topics related to your site. Search this inventory for the related topics identified in Research. Optionally, you can add them from the Research application. Add topics to your content plan.

Pages Inventory – MarketMuse maintains an inventory of your site’s pages. Search inventory for content ranking for those topics, identify intent mismatch and add pages to your content plan.

Content Plans – Use MarketMuse content plans to organize clusters and add notes.

App/Briefs – Run each item in the plan in any of the applications to get actionable insights, including linking and appropriate anchor text suggestions. Or you can order briefs to create new content or optimize existing pages.

Optimize Application – Run your article through Optimize to discover content gaps and get real-time feedback on how to improve the page.

Content Cluster Cheat Sheet

The Takeaway

Getting a content strategy going doesn’t have to be scary. All it needs is a little thought and planning to map out how best to tackle it.

Remember, content marketing isn’t about creating the most dazzling content the web has ever seen. It’s about creating the best content for your brand and your audience.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher College.  Her work includes the development and execution of content strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including marketing and audience research, content calendar creation, hiring and managing writers and editors, and SEO optimization. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.