Content strategy is the ongoing process of transforming business objectives and goals into a plan that uses content as a primary means of achieving those goals.
There’s so much information out there about how to build a content strategy. It makes you stop and wonder, “what is a content strategy exactly?”
If you’re reading this, you probably already have some involvement with content in your business. But before you read this, try to define what content strategy is. Chances are, you’ll find that it’s a more slippery concept than it initially seems.
In this article, we’ll look at what we mean by “content” and use that to work our way to a definition of content strategy.
While the approaches to content and content strategy will differ for B2C marketers and B2B marketers, a baseline understanding of what we mean when we talk about content strategy is industry-agnostic.
What is Content?
Before we dive into what content strategy actually is, it’s worth understanding what we mean when we say “content.”
“Content” is a single word loaded with different connotations and meanings that depend on its context. Yet, a single concise definition is elusive – most of us would simply say we know it when we see it. It applies to technical whitepapers and in-depth blog posts as much it does to TikTok videos and memes.
That’s why it might be best to think of content along several different lines. In the realm of digital marketing, content encompasses four core elements:
- Information – What are the actual contents of your message? It can be factual, practical, entertaining, informative, or some combination of the three.
- Context – What is the content supposed to help you and the reader accomplish? Who is the target audience for this content? Why is it being published?
- Medium – What channel are you publishing the content on, and how does that influence the overall message?
- Form – Is the content text, graphic, audio, video, interactive, virtual/augmented reality, etc.?
Content is information that is relevant in a given context and has a form shaped by the medium through which it’s transmitted.
Many definitions of content focus too much on the information and not on the rest of the elements. Information without context is just noise. Information that isn’t presented with the form and medium in mind risks being lost on the recipient. For example, you could write out the steps of changing a tire, but including images would make it a lot clearer.
Likewise, the material you include in a piece of content has to reflect the medium and form – you wouldn’t publish an in-depth guide to a complex topic in a Twitter thread. It also has to make sense in the context of the target audience you want to reach. For example, at MarketMuse, we want to reach content teams, SEO teams, and digital marketers.
We don’t publish content about social media marketing because it doesn’t align with the use of our product. Anything we post on that topic would quickly lose relevance for our audience, even if it is sound. Any definition of “quality content” has to take this into account.
Content is vital for businesses today as a means of attracting potential customers without relying on traditional “push” advertising techniques. Digital content allows potential customers to discover and engage with you organically. As they search for topics and concepts relevant to what they want to do or know, they find you and dive deeper at their leisure.
The sales funnel still exists, but the downward force that gets people through it isn’t just ads and sales meetings. It’s content that helps people learn something new, solve their problems, do better work, and ultimately find solutions that help them reach their goals.
It’s a means of showing your expertise and awareness around things your target audience cares about and building trust with them so that if they decide to make a purchase, you are front and center. It’s not about being purely promotional or transactional. You have to truly add value in some way if you want your content to move any business goal forward.
What is Content Strategy?
Once we understand what content is, we can start to understand what it means to have a content strategy.
Content strategy is the ongoing process of translating business objectives and goals into a plan that uses content as a primary means of achieving those goals.
Every other facet of content strategy starts here. There’s no need to talk about a content audit, content governance, a content plan, content production, an editorial calendar, etc. until you have a clear idea of what business objectives to which you can map content.
As a content strategist, it’s your responsibility to know the larger goals you’re contributing to and why. The right content for the wrong purpose won’t drive consistent results.
Content strategy doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s not just building an editorial calendar, writing content, and publishing it. It’s not having a blog, even if it’s full of great content. It’s not putting out a one-off content piece here and there based on sales or product teams’ requests.
If your content strategy doesn’t start with a business objective, it’s not a content strategy. It’s just content.
Once you’ve established your core objectives, the “how” of your content strategy is honed by asking simple, yet vital questions.
- What do we want our content to accomplish in pursuit of our business goals?
- What are the KPIs for each type of content we publish?
- What is our target audience for the different types of content we will produce?
- What does a content audit of our site tell us about the existing content we have and our gaps?
- How will we source content ideas? How will we ensure they align with our brand voice, goals, and audiences?
- What content formats are we best suited to produce? Maybe your content team can put together a mean blog post but lacks the skills to create high-quality videos. If so, you know where you’ll be more likely to stand out.
- How will we ensure we have a documented strategy and governance, rather than relying on ad hoc requests for content?
- How will we distribute content? How can we ensure our email, influencer outreach, and social media content strategy supports our overall content marketing effort?
Any content marketing strategy must align with your broader brand strategy, marketing goals, and business objectives. For that, you’ll want to develop a roadmap.
Let’s look at a few examples of how this might look in action across different functional areas.
Content Strategy for SEO
Content strategy and SEO often work hand-in-hand, and rightfully so. Most of the businesses we work with at MarketMuse are looking to increase organic traffic and leads generated via content while lowering their Customer Acquisition Costs.
So how can a content strategy serve this goal?
Over the years, content has become the most critical part of any SEO strategy. Of course, technical issues and obtaining links are still big pieces of the puzzle.
But as search engines (and let’s be serious, we’re mostly talking about Google here) evolve, they’re putting increasing emphasis on serving users quality content that satisfies their search intent.
That’s why authoritative domains can rank well in search even with subpar content. It’s also why small domains can punch above their weight with authoritative content clusters that rank highly for competitive terms.
A content cluster, or topic cluster, is a way of organizing content on a website into topically related ‘clusters.’
It’s done by producing a ‘pillar’ page on a core topic along with multiple additional content pages related to that topic. The pillar page should link to the cluster pages. Likewise, the cluster pages should link back to the pillar.A content cluster should cover a topic across all phases of the buyer’s/user’s journey.
As the diagram below shows, it starts at the top, driving awareness of your business through content that targets searchers who want to answer questions or solve a problem.
As they begin to identify your product/service as a possible solution, they want content that helps them answer questions and make the best decision to ultimately make a purchase.
But the sales funnel isn’t linear. Not everyone starts at the top and works their way down. Some people will enter your funnel already solution-aware and just want to know more about your solution.
Others may not have the slightest clue they need a solution at all and are searching for answers to a problem or question they have. That’s why you need to cover the entire journey – anyone who enters your site should have a clear next step they can take no matter where they are in the funnel.
One example of a successful content clustering strategy is from ISSA, a provider of personal trainer, nutritionist, and fitness instructor certifications.
For their personal training certification track, ISSA has produced content that anticipates every possible question and search intent someone could have about personal trainer certification. Here are a few pieces of content in their cluster that show how well they’ve covered the topic.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for how much content ISSA has produced on this topic. With a robust internal linking strategy to go along with all of this content, ISSA makes it easy for users to get the information they need and take a clear next step. Their SEO gains and organic traffic growth has been steady and continues to climb even in a highly competitive space.
For more on content strategy and SEO, we have a selection of vertical-specific guides that go more in-depth on building content strategies.
Content Strategy for Customer Success and Support
Content for SEO purposes gets the lion’s share of attention, but don’t ignore the “Post-Purchase” phase. Content isn’t just for prospects; it’s just as necessary to provide useful content for customers.
Post-purchase content may not be flashy in the sense that it attracts traffic and social shares. But it’s one of the best ways to solve the business issue of too many inbound customer support requests. A customer support strategy would have its success measured along the lines of reducing support tickets and, ultimately, retention.
A robust library of self-serve support content, once built out, can reduce the need to hire additional headcount for those purposes. It also allows your support teams to focus their attention on high-value clients and more significant issues that content alone can’t solve.
As SaaS company Aircall wrote,
Content can be an effective tool to educate, train, and teach customers.
Aircall walks the walk when it comes to using content effectively to support and retain customers. In addition to a blog with useful VoIP, sales, and customer success tactics and tips, Aircall has a robust Knowledge Base that customers can use to search for answers to specific questions about the software and phone systems.
If you find that your support teams are inundated with the same issues and questions regularly, make some room in your content calendar to produce content that helps your customers learn how to use your product themselves.
Content Strategy for Sales Enablement
Sales enablement content is content that a sales team can use to educate prospects and help them build a case for purchasing your product or service.
Your content strategy here should take into account common questions and objections your salespeople hear.
For example, one of the most common questions our sales team at MarketMuse gets from prospects is how they can use MarketMuse with their existing marketing technology stack. That’s why we produced the content like:
Our sales team can send these over to prospects who want to understand how to make sure MarketMuse fits into their processes they’ve already built with other tools. This content can be shared beyond the buying team, so other budget makers can understand precisely for what they’re paying.
Why Is It Important to Have a Content Strategy?
The short answer to this question is that you’ll be directionless without a content strategy, chasing whatever new shiny object enters your line of sight.
The fact is that the content lifecycle needs to start somewhere. Here’s what that looks like.
This wheel represents the cycle of content strategy and execution. Strategy leads to execution. Execution leads to results, which you use to influence your strategy on an ongoing basis.
You can’t start this process without knowing what you want to accomplish. As you make your way through the content lifecycle, you’ll learn what content types resonate with your audience best.
You’ll find ways to optimize your workflows. You’ll get feedback from customers, prospects, partners, and the public about your content that can help you refine your overall strategy.
That’s what’s challenging and fun about content strategy. It’s not something you deliberate on once a year or once a quarter. You’re constantly adapting and finding new ways to move through this cycle a little smarter than the last time.
Along the way, your content team should be collecting its learnings and creating a documented content strategy.
But again, it all starts with knowing what your strategy is. There’s no other way to measure your content marketing ROI.
Building a Content Strategy
Now that you understand what content strategy is and what it needs to accomplish, you’re probably wondering how to put it into practice.
We can help!
If you’re starting from scratch, the best place to start learning how to build a solid content strategy is our Content Strategy Crash Course.
Once you’ve got a strong foundation, a great next step is to watch some of our content strategy, SEO, and AI-focused webinars to get some tactical tips.
Anyone can join our community and start asking and answering questions. So if you have something specific you want to discuss, that’s the place to do it!