According to the most recent statistics, 7.5 million blog posts are published every single day. That’s a lot of content. So how do we get noticed in an oversaturated market? How do we create content that our customers will still find valuable?
There’s a brilliant quote on Content Design by Sarah Richards that sums up the way we should all think about content. She says “Not more content, smarter content”. It sounds obvious but, unfortunately, many marketers still underestimate the importance of a carefully planned and well-documented content strategy. Many still opt for quantity, over quality.
That’s an approach that is no longer sustainable and rarely brings results.
Whether you’re currently publishing shallow content without a plan or you already have a content strategy that you wish to improve, this article will show you how to create a winning content plan.
But before moving onto our step-by-step advice, let’s first define what a content strategy is and the reasons why you should incorporate one into your marketing plan, no matter what industry you’re in.
What is a content strategy?
A content strategy defines how you use content to satisfy your users’ needs and meet your business goals. It replaces the “throwing it out there and hoping it sticks” kind of approach and, instead, it allows you to provide the right content, to the right audience, with clear objectives in mind.
Our tried-and-trusted method breaks up this process into 3 phases:
The aim of the discovery phase is to gather as much information as possible ahead of the content execution. This includes setting goals and understanding your audience, as well as checking out the competition and auditing the content that you already have.
This is the “get stuff done” phase. Taking into account the information collected during the discovery phase, this is when you create an editorial calendar and start generating your content. Content amplification, i.e. getting it in front of your target audience, is also part of this phase.
Analysis and fine-tuning
This is when you analyse your content effectiveness and, if necessary, make adjustments to your original plan to make it even more powerful.
Does content strategy apply to every industry?
Absolutely. If you have customers, you have content opportunities. It’s really that simple.
If you are in what is considered a niche industry, don’t make the mistake of thinking that creating great content isn’t something that applies to you.
Think back at the past week – how many mundane queries did you type into Google?
I’ll go first – “how to get marker stains off school uniform” and “tyre pressure light keeps coming on” spring to mind. Hardly the most exciting topics, yet the articles I read were invaluable to me at the time.
Focus your attention on reaching people that need you and you can’t go wrong.
Step 1 – Goals: what do you want to achieve?
Without well-defined objectives, content is just noise. Therefore a content strategy should always start with defining what you want to accomplish.
Businesses goals will vary greatly but a few top-level examples include:
Sales and revenue
Revenue-driving content is about convincing prospective customers that you’re the best brand to work with, your products and services are right for them, and your people are a good fit for what they’re building.
Ebooks, guides, e-mail subscriptions, white papers, templates and exclusive events – there are many different ways to use content to generate leads. What they all have in common is being behind a “wall” that allows you to collect data about your customers, such as e-mail addresses. Experiment with different formats and observe what resonates with your customers the most.
Rather than simply selling your products and services, branded content focuses on your values as a business and what makes you stand out from the competition. Create content that tells potential customers what you believe in and what your brand stands for. Why should customers choose you over your competitors?
Closely related to branded content, thought leadership is about establishing your brand as an authority in your niche. Should this be your goal, your content will focus on showing that you have a great understanding of the market and your customers. You will put forward original insights and unique expertise. Bring something new to the conversation, instead of simply echoing what your competitors or other thought leaders have said.
Customer education content provides relevant information to the consumer about a product or service. If this is your goal, your content will still influence sales or leads but this will be done indirectly, by teaching people there is a solution to their problems.
You might have noticed that traffic didn’t make it into the list. This is because when content is well-researched and well-distributed, an increase in traffic will happen automatically.
Step 2 – Your audience: who are they and what do they want?
Customer research is vital if you want your strategy to succeed.
Boiled down to the basics, the questions you want to focus on include:
- Who do you want to reach?
- What does your audience care about?
- What are their pain points?
- How and where do they like to consume information?
How you capture this information depends on your organisation’s setup and resources.
If available, use existing customer research and personas (as long as they’re still relevant).
Speak to the people who are closest to your customers (i.e. call centre and customer-facing staff), review what your audience says about your brand on Social Media, take a look at the reviews they leave or run a survey.
Keyword research will help greatly at this stage too as it will give you visibility of your customers’ most searched for products, problems and questions.
Step 3 – Your competitors: what can you learn from their activity?
In order to create content that matters, you must have a good understanding of your industry and its key players and conduct an in-depth competitor analysis.
Check out what your competitors are doing. What are they doing well? What content formats are they using? What sort of engagement is their content driving? What are your strengths?
It’s also worth remembering at this stage that your perceived competitors might differ from who you compete within the search engines. You might also have different competitors depending on what product/service you’re focusing on. Make sure you know who you’re up against.
Step 4 – Your existing content: does it provide value to your audience?
Auditing your existing content will help you with your content strategy in 2 ways:
- It will save you time. There may be some content pieces that could do with tweaking or updating rather than a complete rewrite. Or multiple small pages that can be combined into a comprehensive guide.
- If you know what’s working (and what isn’t!), you can then use this information to inform your content strategy and ensure that anything you do moving forwards is backed up by data.
Run your analysis and split your content into 4 groups:
- Keep: the content performs well, is still relevant and fits into your overall objectives. No changes are necessary.
- Update: the content still offers value, but there are specific parts that are redundant and therefore need revising and updating.
- Consolidate: use this action when you have multiple pages covering the same topics. Combine these pages into a comprehensive resource.
- Redirect: the content is redundant or receiving such little traffic it’s not worth keeping.
Step 5 – User needs and content formats: what content do you need?
By this stage, you should have established your goals, who you are talking to, their needs and what your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses are.
Step 5 is when you really start bringing everything together by matching user needs with your brand’s expertise, products and services.
My favourite way to do this is to use post-its or an online whiteboard app, such as Miro. Jot down what your customers want and brainstorm content ideas that will help you address those needs. While copy might be the easiest and quickest to create, remember that content refers to a wide range of formats from video and images, to podcasts and case studies. Choose what’s most appropriate to hit your goals.
Step 6 – Editorial calendar: clarity and consistency
In its most basic form, a content calendar sets out what content will be published and when, a bit like a wall calendar or a diary.
You don’t need any fancy software, an Excel or Google Sheet will suffice, and there is certainly no shortage of templates available online.
The key benefits of using a well-documented editorial calendar are:
- Enables you to plan ahead and organise your content around key events, dates, and product launches
- Gives you a clear view of what’s coming up so that you can set aside enough time to do all the necessary prep
- Helps you maintain consistency as you’ll easily be able to spot any gaps and fill them accordingly
- Provides visibility across different departments, particularly if you work for a large organisation and there are many people involved
Step 7 – Content production: where the magic happens
The key to effective content creation is having a well-defined workflow, i.e. the tasks that you or each member of your team need to action in order to create and publish a certain type of content.
What this looks like in practice will vary greatly depending on the content formats you are working with but the following tasks will make the process more effective and efficient:
- Always start with a clear brief: goals, audience, format, guidelines, budget, SEO requirements and deadlines, just to name a few elements. The more information you can provide to the content creator, the better the results and the less time spent on amends.
- Get the experts involved: exceptional content is often the result of great teamwork. You may have excellent copywriting skills but your content could be even more effective with the addition of some great product knowledge from the sales team. Or your blog post could be far more effective if it included some bespoke graphics. When you craft your brief, take this into account and get the right people involved at the right time.
- QA: This is a crucial step that comes before publishing. No matter how many times you have proofread a blog post or reviewed a white paper, an extra pair of eyes will ensure your content is error-free and exceptional.
Step 8 – Content amplification: don’t settle for organic
Great content is useless if nobody’s consuming it.
One of the biggest mistakes that brands and organisations make time and time again is the lack of a clear distribution plan. Content production isn’t enough. You must get it in front of your audience. In practice, this means using those channels where you know your audience spends their time and can interact with you.
Don’t just wait for search engines to index your content and hope for the best, use the channels that you already have at your disposal. Social media is an obvious choice, which can increase the impact by tweaking the messaging depending on the network.
Email marketing allows you to share your content with customers who you already know are interested in your products and services.
Employee advocacy, the promotion of a brand’s content by its own employees, or user-generated content works extremely well, particularly on social media as does paid media, to name a few.
Ensure that amplification is included in your editorial calendar and make distribution a key step of your process.
Analysis and fine-tuning phase
Step 9 – Measure content performance
Remember the goals you set out in step 1? If you started this process with clear objectives in mind, then you will find it very easy to select and analyse the right metrics.
Content KPIs can generally be grouped into 3 main categories:
- User behaviour: traffic sources, page views, pages per session, bounce rate, time on page, page scroll depth, dwell time
- Sentiment: comments, shares, likes, mentions
- Conversions: number of leads, conversion rate, ROI
My recommendation, particularly if you’re only just getting started, is to keep reporting simple and not go overboard with the metrics you track and analyse. Instead, keep your focus on those key elements that will enable you to assess whether you’re getting closer to your set objectives.
Only once you have refined your overall process, you can then look into incorporating more metrics into your measurement.
Step 10 – Turn data into actionable insights
The last thing you want is to go through all the steps above and then not evaluate your content effectiveness. Analyse your selected metrics to determine if your content delivered the desired results. Particularly if you’re working with a wide variety of content types, get a clear idea of how each performed.
Finally, it’s key that you turn those data points into actionable tasks and make adjustments where necessary. Refer to your strategy often and give it a periodic fine-tune.
Content is so much more than just a “write it, post it and see if anyone likes it”, particularly in today’s busy marketplace where millions of pieces of content are published every day.
Get in touch to discuss your content requirements in more detail and let us help you increase your share of voice.