Content marketing is nothing new. In fact, there are examples dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. He created it to promote his printing business.
But in its current form, as a digital tool to drive traffic and generate leads, it’s only been around for about 15 years. While that’s plenty of time to build a good library of reference material, a lot of marketing teams are still trying to find their footing in digital and content marketing.
Are you new to content marketing?
Do you need to keep yourself up-to-date in this rapidly changing field?
We’ve put together the ultimate guide to get you started along with some real-world examples. Once you have the general concepts down, you can check out our other articles to dive into analytics, linking strategies, and other tools to keep your content competitive.
But again, let’s start with the basics.
What Is Content Strategy?
Content strategy is a term that’s bounced around a lot to describe a bunch of different aspects of content marketing. But it really only means one thing. It’s the overarching set of rules every piece of content marketing has to abide by, within the context of an overall marketing strategy.
Content strategy should not be siloed within an organization. It’s important to closely align it with business goals.
“Our job is not to create content. Our job is to change the world of the people who consume it.”Andrea Fryrear – Co-Founder, AgileSherpas
Content strategists spend their days ensuring their guidelines are met. So, first and foremost, put in writing exactly what you want to accomplish with your content.
For Red Bull, for example, they wanted to be a customer-centric brand that didn’t focus on their product. The result was an extreme-sports empire that hardly ever mentions their drink, but draws in millions of loyal customers.
With your content strategy, you define your target audience (or audiences) in detail and determine the content types and platforms that will reach them best. You set your tone and voice, your publishing cadence, your quarterly or yearly goals, and what defines success for you.
Often, content marketing strategy goals fall into five categories:
- Content created to raise awareness
- Content created to drive traffic
- Content created to generate leads
- Content created to generate conversions
- Content created to retain customers
Your strategy may contain more than one of these content types, depending on the platforms you use and the kind of content you produce.
Take Uber, for example.
Operating a double-sided market, they have business objectives for both riders and drivers. They have blog posts aimed at passengers and video aimed at people interested in becoming a driver. Both types of content have different strategies for different audiences, but they serve a bigger strategy: to attract more people to their business and build revenue.
So your social media strategy is going to be slightly different from your long-form content strategy or your video strategy. But everything you create is going to serve the same purpose, have essentially the same voice and present a consistent branding across your content stakeholders’ teams.
In fact, your social media strategy might have its own smaller strategies. The content you put on Facebook will be aimed at that audience, which tends to skew older. It may promote existing content or encourage followers to contribute to conversations. Your content on Medium may be well-researched posts aimed at professionals in your vertical, while your Instagram will be more visual, targeting millennials.
Don’t forget about user experience (UX) when setting up your content strategy. The content and its placement on your site should guide visitors on the buyer’s journey toward the end goal. That objective could be conversion, lead generation, or sharing.
Finally, search engines and the traffic they send figure prominently in most content strategy plans. So you’ll need to incorporate some basic search engine optimization into your content efforts.
Our job as marketers is to create the minimum amount of content with the maximum amount of results.Robert Rose – Founder, The Content Advisory
Bottom line: This is the stuff you have to figure out before you create even one piece of high-quality content. Define your goals and audience. Choose your platforms, your voice, and your tone.
Put in place goals and benchmarks to measure your success. Define stakeholders for each piece of content and put in place a content creation process that scales.
Now that we’ve explored what a content strategy is, let’s look at some of the pieces that make it work.
Content Strategy Basics
Let’s dive into some content strategy basics. Now you know what a content strategy is, the next step is figuring out how you’re going to implement that strategy.
Start by thinking about your ROI. What return on investment are you hoping for with your marketing plan? How do you plan on reaching that goal?
Keep in mind that ROI doesn’t always translate to money in content marketing. There are other outcomes for your content that are just as valuable. Those include:
- Brand or product awareness
- Thought leadership
- Customer loyalty
Of course, all of these goals eventually translate into revenue, but your content is only focused on these first steps. From there, it’s up to your sales team to pull those leads and customers further down the funnel.
Once you know what your ROI is, it’s time to determine how to measure success. For brand or product awareness, for example, page analytics and social media shares are helpful. They indicate your reach and how excited people are about the brand.
Shares can also help you measure customer loyalty. For thought leadership, use a tool like Moz or SEMRush to keep track of your backlinks and how often other reputable sites are citing you.
Once you determine how to measure your ROI, it’s up to you and your stakeholders to figure out what a good ROI looks like. Once you know what good ROI looks like for you, it’s time to concentrate on your buyer personas and user intent.
Who is your buyer? And what are they looking for when they search using a particular term or question?
To make your content successful and hit that ROI goal, you need to understand your audience and solve their pain points. The best way is to create a character sketch of your target customer, just like you would for a novel or play.
Go beyond age, race, and ethnicity, and talk about the things that they’re interested in, their values and the things that complicate their lives.
Craft your content around those interests, those problems, and those values. By doing so, you’ll be creating content that speaks to them and draws them into your brand.
As you begin to address those values, problems, and interests, you’ll find your content gravitating toward certain topics naturally. That’s where you start your topic and topic cluster research.
Start looking for those topics your audience is interested in and dig deeper. Find the issues that align completely with your brand, or topics that haven’t been covered well by other brands. You can also look at how competitors have covered a topic and see if you can do better.
Finally, set out a production plan that allows you to create content at scale. You can do this using tools like MarketMuse. Here’s how it works:
Research Application – Thoroughly research a topic and 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 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.
Advanced Content Strategy
At this point, you’ve done a lot of groundwork to get your content marketing off the ground. Now, it’s time to….do more groundwork.
This is where you’ll need some more advanced content strategy skills to tighten up your plan and make sure you come out strong, right out of the gates.
First, if you have existing content, it’s time to audit that content against your new goals and strategy. Conduct an inventory of everything you’ve published and cross-reference it with your strategy, topics, and topic clusters.
What have you covered well already?
What needs updating?
What are you missing entirely?
Take those missing or lacking topics and plug them into your editorial calendar. You can also conduct a content audit of your competitors to see where you can one-up their content offering.
A tool like MarketMuse can do both for you. It will crawl each piece of content for missing sub-topics and places where you can go more in-depth. It will also look at your content as a whole to look for content gaps to ensure full coverage of your topic.
Do some further research on those topics to make sure you’re hitting the right keywords for your brand and your audience.
Finally, it’s time to set out your plan of attack. How will you create all this content at scale?
Set up production guidelines for each kind of content, whether that be a white paper, a blog post, or a video. Make clear the process each piece should follow and who the stakeholders are.
Plot everything out on an editorial calendar, with each step a piece goes through assigned to a date.
Finally, spell out how each piece of content gets approved and published.
As you can see, content marketing takes a lot of planning before you ever publish a single word, image, or frame. Great content doesn’t just happen. Every stakeholder should have a clear picture of how every piece of content is created, its purpose, and what it should accomplish.
Start with your content strategy. Define your goals, your audience, your topics, and your production plan. Keep everyone on the same page, and you’ll be able to create high-quality content at scale.