Year after year, the Content Marketing Institute’s Benchmark report highlights two insights.
The first one is the incredible adoption of content among brands (currently at 93%).
The other reveals the single factor that sets top performers from laggards – having a well-documented content marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, as we learn from each year’s report, many brands struggle to define and formalize their content strategy. I attribute much of the problem to a lack of understanding of what such a strategy includes.
Hence this guide. My goal for writing it is to show you all the elements of a successful content strategy. Where applicable, I’ve also included links to additional content to help you learn more about implementing a particular element in practice.
What is a Content Marketing Strategy?
If you scout the web, you’ll likely come across many (oftentimes confusing) explanations of the term. Some sources confuse content marketing strategy with another similar term – content strategy. Others focus on the marketing aspect entirely, missing the specificity of what the strategy really contains.
So, let me start by distilling the term into a single, cohesive definition.
A content marketing strategy is your plan to build an audience and generate leads by publishing, promoting and ranking content that matches the user intent and delivers on their expectations.
In a nutshell, the strategy defines who you’re targeting, with what information, how you're targeting them, and what you’re trying to achieve by doing so. Naturally, there is more to each of those elements, and we’ll be discussing them in detail later in this guide.
Why Do You Need a Content Marketing Strategy in the First Place?
You have a good feeling about your audience and what they want, so is there a need to formalize this knowledge any further?
Absolutely! In fact, having a well-documented content marketing strategy helps your brand in three ways:
1) It provides structure to your ideas and helps you discover new ways to attract more visitors and leads.
Without a strategy, your ideas lack structure. Sure, you have a good feeling about whom to target and with what information. But many of those insights are based on mere intuition, lack structure, and are hard to pass on to others on your team.
A strategy forms your instincts into a cohesive set of insights that anyone in the company could use and eventually drive more successful strategies.
2) Developing a strategy uncovers your unique voice and market positioning.
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content published on the web. Similarly, you may feel intimidated by the prospect of having to compete with it all.
But one aspect of the strategy is defining your unique voice and positioning, something that will set your content apart from anything else out there.
3) Finally, a strategy brings focus to your efforts and ensures success.
That’s precisely why it is one of the key factors that separate top content marketing performers from laggards.
(Data from the 2019 Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Benchmarks report)
How to Plan a Content Marketing Strategy
At the core of a new content marketing strategy lie some key insights. The best way to collect them is by answering seven questions.
Each question is outlined below; in the following section, I share how to use these seven questions to create content marketing strategy.
Who do you want to attract?
Earlier I shared that the content marketing strategy is your plan to “build an audience and generate leads.” In other words, the goal of your content is to attract more relevant visitors to the site, educate and engage them until they become your fans, leads, customers, and finally, your greatest advocates.
Before you achieve any of that, you must have a clear idea about who you want to attract with your content.
Answering that question requires that you define the audience’s demographic characteristics, identify their goals, aspirations, goals, values and any other insight that would help you build a buyer persona.
What are your audience’s core problems?
The most successful content focuses on educating the audience. Such content is rarely self-promotional, although there is a place for such pieces in the strategy. Instead, it helps the audience solve specific problems that relate to the products you sell or services you offer.
There is a good reason for approaching content this way. Focusing on your audience’s core problems helps you qualify visitors and ensures that you attract only the most relevant ones to the site.
Recommended Reading: How to Make Your Content More Relevant to the Audience’s Needs
What do you want to achieve, really?
Let’s face it - nobody publishes content for the sake of having more pages on the site. So, what are you trying to achieve? Grow your sales? Generate more leads? Drive brand awareness of a new product? Build an initial following for your new company?
Define your goals. Having them in front of you all the time will shape many aspects of the strategy, from the content you’ll publish to the metrics you’ll use to measure the success.
What sets you apart from the competition?
Almost everyone publishes content today. It’s a good thing because it confirms how critical the strategy is to your success. But it’s also a bad thing, as it is becoming harder and harder to stand out among all the other assets online.
To do so, you need to define your unique approach to topics. How do you talk about the audience’s problems and their solutions will set you apart and win visibility and traffic.
How does your audience consume information?
The easiest way to succeed with content is by matching your audience’s preferences.
If they prefer to consume content on their mobile devices, optimize your pages for mobile (or launch their AMP versions.) If your audience engages with video more than text, focus on visual content types and so on.
Research what type of content your audience prefers to consume, and how. Do they prefer reading blog posts (short form or long form), looking at engaging visuals to gain insights (through infographics and charts on the topic), or prefer podcasts or videos? This insight will guide much of your strategy’s success.
Also, consider how they find or come across new information. Do they prefer to google the stuff they don’t know? Or perhaps engage with content someone recommends on social media?
This information will help guide many aspects of the strategy, so make sure you research it well.
Recommended Reading: How to Create an Engaging Mobile Content Marketing Strategy
What resources do you have at your disposal?
It’s no secret that delivering a strategy requires a lot. You need tools, people, data, access to internal knowledge and more and you may have most of it already. But as part of this preparation, make a list of all the resources at your disposal. In particular, list people who could contribute to producing and promoting the content regularly, internal experts who could help when needed, and information you will need to access.
Looking for a tool to help you plan, deliver and improve your content marketing strategy further? Book a demo and see how seoClarity can take your strategy to a whole new level.
What are you going to publish and when?
The last question focuses on your editorial calendar that defines what specific content you will publish along with its key characteristics, when those assets will go live, and who is responsible for various aspects of its delivery.
Putting the Content Marketing Strategy Together
Below is the process I recommend you use to create a content marketing strategy. It uses answers to the seven questions above to formulate a plan for building your audience and generating leads with content.
Step 1. Define Your Goals
I make defining goals the first step deliberately. Your goals affect almost every other aspect of your strategy.
Let me illustrate that with an example. Let’s assume that you’ve decided to launch your content marketing strategy with the goal to increase sales among a specific target audience or within a product category. Such a goal will affect your choice which piece of content to use, on what topics to write, and even, what is the best writing style to engage your audience. Since you want to talk to a highly-defined audience, you will match their preferences with content. You will also target their intent for information. And, of course, you will talk about issues they find relevant.
Step 2. Define the Target Audience
This step stems from the previous one. If your goal is to increase sales, for example, then you’ll naturally focus on the bottom of the funnel audience. These people are ready to make the buying decision, after all.
But if you want to boost brand awareness of a new product or a company instead, then your audience is people at the start of the buying cycle.
One of the most effective ways to research your target audience is by reviewing the Analytics data. Figuring out what topics have driven your traffic, from which channels (i.e., SEO, social media) and so on will reveal much about your ideal reader's preferences.
Step 3. Define the Mission for the Content Strategy
Describe how do you want to achieve those goals. Think of this as your content marketing mission statement outlining what you’re going to do and for whom (and when you’re going to do it!).
An example of such a mission statement would be “to provide enterprise in-house SEOs with practical and actionable advice on taking their search visibility to a whole new level.”
(That’s exactly what we aim to do at seoClarity, by the way.)
The mission will ensure that you stay on track with the content development, and do not introduce ideas that do not match what you want to achieve in the process.
The mission has another purpose, too. It also defines why someone should listen to your advice and care about it. In other words, it also defines your unique approach to the topic and outlines what will make you different in the eyes of your audience.
Step 4. Evaluate the Current Situation
By now you should have a good understanding of whom you’re targeting and why. Before you can go any further, though, you must analyze how well your current content assets deliver on this premise.
To do that, conduct a thorough content audit to evaluate your efforts so far. The content audit will help you:
- Identify what content do you have already,
- Recognize what the best performing assets are,
- Evaluate how well they deliver on your mission statement.
Recommended Reading: 6 Steps to an In-Depth Content Audit That Will Ensure a Traffic Boost
Step 5. Define Your Topics
With all the preparatory work out of the way, you’re ready to start developing the actual content ideas. But I recommend you do it differently to common wisdom.
Much of the advice you find online suggests starting with the keyword research. Now, I’m not saying that it is wrong to do so. However, there is one critical step to do before you begin researching specific phrases to target – Identify your topics.
Topics are general ideas describing the subject of the search. Its purpose is to define a broad area of information relating to that specific topic.
“Basketball,” “Content Marketing,” “Fitness” are all topics. They define the audience’s interests but do not reveal what information your potential customers are actually searching for.
Knowing what your key topics are, however, will help you fine-tune keyword research and ensure that you will always create relevant content. Once you know your topics, you can focus on keywords that relate only to them.
Finally, brainstorm specific content ideas based on your topics and keywords.
Recommended Reading: Why Topic Strategy Matters Most in Keyword Research
Step 6. Allocate Resources
Next, define who is going to be responsible for overseeing or delivering specific elements of the strategy – content creation, optimization, promotion and link building, and so on.
Step 7. Plan out the Initial Content Calendar
I admit that scheduling content for the year ahead might not be feasible for you. But at least, collect ideas for the next quarter and list them in order you’ll want them published.
For each content asset, add information like:
- The topic
- Primary and secondary keywords
- Working title
- Length and the format
- The people responsible
You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet to manage the calendar, with each row representing a content asset, and columns listing the above information.
Step 8. Assign KPIs to Measure Success
Remember your goals? In this step, you need to choose the best metrics to monitor how well you’re reaching them.
Your KPIs (key performance indicators) depend on your goals, of course. If you aim to increase brand awareness, you might want to track traffic and online brand mentions. When you aim to generate leads, your KPIs would revolve around the number of new visitors to the site and their conversion rates, and so on.
Step 9. Plan the Promotion
Finally, with all the work on your content done, it’s time to consider one last element - How are you going to get your blog posts, visuals, and other types of content in front of the target audience.
And you have a whole range of channels that you could use:
- Optimize the content for SEO,
- Engage influencers in promotion,
- Run paid ads on social media,
- Promote the content with Google Ads,
- Repurpose the content, and do so much more.
Step 10. Launch the Strategy!
With all the information in one place, what’s left is to start working on those content pieces on your calendar.
How to Use the Content Marketing Strategy Effectively
The first thing that comes to mind is, by acting on it. But such an answer would be far too simple, of course.
So, how do you use the strategy, then?
First of all, your strategy must inform various content-related workflows within the business. The strategy defines all aspects of the content, but also, the content production. Based on that information, you can specify who is responsible for its various aspects, when, and how should they proceed.
With that, you’ll have no problems with converting your organization into a well-oiled content machine. Coincidentally, this is precisely what sets the best content performers from laggards apart.
Another way to use the strategy is to simplify the decision-making. Every time something within the organization changes - new product gets launched, for example - and the change affects your content, the strategy will keep you grounded, and help make the right decisions faster.
All in all, you use the strategy as the foundation for everything content-related that you do, from ideation to production to ensuring consistency and productivity.