So you have decided to start with content creation. You have learned the basics, you are excited and can’t wait to create the first piece of content for your blog, podcast or YouTube channel. Well, not so fast. First, you need to have a solid foundation to build on - a strategy.
Since its inception, content marketing has been on the rise. Businesses are spending more money and resources on content creation and marketing, year after year.
But the bad news is most are not doing it right. There is more noise and poor quality content than ever before.
Content marketing is a significant long-term investment. Even more so considering the duration or months/years it takes to build momentum and deliver results.
It’s not like advertising, which you can turn on or off as you please. If something is not right with your advertising strategy, you can recover quickly by correcting it there and then.
But if you made the mistake of choosing the wrong direction for your organic content strategy, or worse, not even having a strategy, there are no quick fixes. It can again take months, or you may have to start from square one.
So before you go ahead with creating any more content, listen up. I am going to share everything you need to know and do for formulating and refining your content strategy.
What Is Content Strategy?
A content strategy (also known as content marketing strategy) is a brand’s high level plan for producing, promoting and managing content.
A content hub, blog, YouTube channel or podcast is only as good as the content strategy behind it. Without a strategy, most people cluelessly create some content here and there, and hope for the best.
But with a complete strategy figured out, you can have guidelines in place to direct your efforts, execute all the tasks involved cohesively and get better results.
Here are the components you must have in place to earn traffic and ROI from content marketing.
Your Target Niche & Audience
Before you start writing content as part of a content marketing strategy to grow your business, you should have a clear picture of the audience and niche you want to target.
Most people starting out with content marketing fit one of the below situations:
In this case, you don’t already have a business in operation. The content itself is going to be your business.
This is when you start a blog, affiliate site, YouTube channel or podcast to build an audience, become an influencer, and make money by promoting other businesses.
To pick a subject around which to create your content, you will need to look at areas in which you have more knowledge or skill than an average person.
And then do further research to identify market demand and competition, among other factors.
In this case, you have your own products or services for which you want to increase traffic, lead generation and sales.
For you, content is the means to achieve these goals. So you start a business blog, or a company YouTube channel or podcast.
In this case, the process to pick a subject to create content is more or less the same.
But the only difference is you will not consider subjects which are not relevant to your existing business, even if you personally have a lot of knowledge or skill in those areas.
In any case, you want to target people who are potential buyers or users of the products or services you’re promoting.
But if your offerings cater to a large market with different types of audiences, it’s better to begin with only one segment first.
For more information, read my complete guide on how to pick the best target niche in the beginning. Then. for your target segment, consider the following questions:
- What’s their age and gender?
- What do they do and what’s a typical day like for them?
- What are their problems and pain points?
- What do they want to learn more about?
- What gives them happiness and satisfaction?
The better you know your target audience, the better you’ll be able to serve them. In fact, you need to know them so intimately that when reading your content, they should feel like you’re reading their mind.
A great way to put your finger on the type of people you want to reach is to build audience personas. And then keep them handy for reference.
So when you’re brainstorming content topics that you’ll be writing about, you can always refer to this data and use it as a filter. This will ensure that your content production is aligned with what your audience wants to read.
Content Goals & KPIs
Measuring the performance of a brand’s content and how it translates to the bottom line has been a real challenge since day one.
Of course, you can measure how many visitors arrived on your website to read your content, and what percentage of them bought your product or service. But this approach is wrong at so many levels.
The relation between content and revenue is not that straightforward. Relying on just one over-simplified metric is a recipe for disaster.
Firstly, you can’t figure out what metrics are really important if you don’t have clear content goals, sorted by priority.
If you are starting from scratch, use your company’s marketing goals as a skeleton to begin with. Then reflect on what that would mean in terms of goals to set for your content.
Once the goals are in place, determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure. Here’s a chart to help you work it out.
As I said, there’s no perfect way to link content with sales, so you’ll have to look at your chosen metrics in combination, not in isolation. Here are a few additional things to consider:
- Building an email list makes it simpler to monitor your visitors’ journeys from reader to customer.
- Running your blog or content site in a sub-folder (e.g. blog.adobe.com) instead of subdomain (e.g. adobe.com/blog) makes it easier to track the conversions you got from content pages.
- As I mentioned, it’s futile to try to make a 1:1 connection between reading an article and a conversion. You should aim for something more holistic. For example, tracking visitor behavior in 90 days leading to conversion.
In the absence of well designed goals and metrics to measure the success of your content, you’ll find yourself scrambling to prove the value of your efforts.
If you want to keep the content creation afloat, make sure to agree on the KPIs you will be measuring in advance.
List Of Content Topics
Once you have an idea on who you want to target and what are their informational needs, it’s time to brainstorm.
The idea is to build a collection of topics and subtopics you will be creating and publishing content for in coming months. Your audience needs different types of content depending on a variety of factors:
Position In The Funnel
From not even knowing about your brand to becoming a customer, there are different stages each person in your target audience goes through. This is known as a customer journey, lifecycle or funnel.
There are those who are not aware of your brand, and those who are familiar but not interested yet. Similarly, some may be ready to purchase while others may be on the fence, researching and comparing your product to competitors.
So when deciding topics, you need to categorize them by the stage at which they will make the most sense. And make sure that you have enough topics for each of these purposes.
Top-Funnel Topics (Awareness Stage): These topics are meant for people who are likely to be interested but not looking to buy at the moment. The idea is to make them visit your website and become aware of your brand.
The content you create on these topics will focus only on helping your target audience in a genuine way, not to sell anything. For example, if you are a plumber, you could create a video on common fixes to try when water is leaking from a tap.
The best way to find such topics is to use a good keyword research tool (like KWFinder) to see what type of information people are searching the most in your chosen niche.
Then pick keywords which indicate that the searcher only wants information. There is no intent to buy anything.
For example, let’s say my business is in the body building niche. This is what I get when I search body building in KWFinder.
A keyword like “bodybuilding diet” shows that the searcher is just looking to learn more about this topic. So it’s a top funnel topic.
In this way, keyword research will help you identify entry points for new readers who had no prior knowledge of your business.
Mid-Funnel Topics (Lead Generation Stage): The purpose of these topics is to convert people who visit your website or who are aware of your brand into email subscribers and leads.
Then nurture them to develop their interest in the type of products/services that can be useful for them.
Just like with top-funnel topics, keyword research is one of the best ways to generate ideas for mid-funnel topics.
These topics will be such that there will be opportunities to mention your product or service within the content. Let’s take a look at the image I showed you above once again:
As you can see, a keyword like “bodybuilding supplements” shows that the searcher wants to learn more about products in this niche, but may not be ready to buy just yet.
Taking the plumbing niche again for another example. You can write an article on minor plumbing issues you need to watch out for before they turn into major problems which are more expensive to solve.
This article could then have some issues which a reader can check by himself, and some for which he would need expertise of a plumber.
Most likely, you will be using the content on these topics as a lead magnet in PDF ebook or whitepaper format.
Bottom-Funnel Topics (Conversion Stage): The content you write for these topics will be used to nurture leads who are really interested and turn them into customers. Again, keyword research is a good source of ideas for bottom funnel topics.
A keyword like “best bodybuilding supplements” shows that the searcher is researching and comparing supplements, and is really interested in buying one.
However, the best way to come up with topics for content at this stage is to talk to your potential customers about what kind of questions they want answered or information provided.
In addition, you can get insights from people in your company who interact with prospects the most. These typically include members of sales teams, as they have an accurate pulse of what your target audience frequently ask about.
For example, content on features of your product, landing pages, sales copies, comparison of your product with a competing product etc, will come in this category.
Post-Sale Topics (After-Conversion): These topics are to write content meant for your current customers/partners. It will ensure that your customers are able to use your product/service without any issues and are satisfied enough to keep buying from you.
For example, knowledge base documentation on how to use your product or service, policies regarding return and refund, troubleshooting issues with the product, ways to get support etc. come in this category.
In order to come up with topics for content at this stage, there are two main sources of ideas.
First, involve all the main stakeholders responsible for developing and delivering your product or service. Then brainstorm the topics that need to be documented for the customer for them to be able to use your product or service at full potential.
2nd, look for ideas from customers or people in your company who support customers. Ask current buyers whether they have questions they want answered or information provided.
And get insights from people in your company who interact with buyers the most. These typically include members of support teams, as they have an accurate pulse of what your customers frequently ask about.
All the content that people consume online can be broadly put into 3 types: educational, inspirational and entertaining.
So when coming up with ideas to produce content, you need these 3 types of content in the right proportion, depending on the nature and target audience of your business.
For example, if you’re into a kids toys business, perhaps 50% of your topics should correspond to entertaining content, 25% educational and 25% inspirational.
Similarly, a B2B consulting company may decide that 50% of its content topics will be educational, 25% inspirational and 25% entertaining.
Level Of Abstraction
Many times, there are different parties involved in researching, buying and then using a product or service. The researcher is not always the decision maker, who is not always the main user.
These different parties also vary in the level of abstraction they prefer when consuming content.
Some people would want only the high level principles or strategic components related to a topic, while others would want detailed processes and actionable steps.
That’s why when planning the topics to create content, another major thing to consider is covering the whole spectrum of abstraction.
You need strategic content for those who are researchers, planners and leaders but not active users, while tactical content for those who are the actual doers, users and executioners.
Strategic content will include frameworks, models and rules. Tactical content will consist of information, comparisons, best practices and processes. This is key to a comprehensive content portfolio.
Another important component of a content strategy is your analysis of competing content, key findings and guidelines on how you plan to make yours different and better than what’s already there.
Analyze the content available on the internet on similar or related topics. Analyze the search engine results, as well as competitor websites, for the keywords you’re targeting.
You want to see what type of content is already available to figure how you can stand out.
In your audit of existing content, look at things like format, length, tone, keywords, outline, information covered and any gaps or weaknesses you can improve on. Here’s a sample of what an analysis might look like:
This data will help inform your own decisions when writing content briefs and then actual content. You don’t want to write content that’s just a rehash of the same information already available online.
You want to make sure your content is 10X better than competitors. You need to give information and value in a way that hasn’t been done before.
So in your content strategy, include your unique angle and ways to make your content stand out. You should be able to add something valuable to the conversation with your intimate knowledge, long experience or extensive research on the topic.
In this part, you will decide on your entire content calendar for the next 6-12 months. This means here you frame your answer to these questions, so everyone on your team is on the same page:
- How often will you publish new content?
- Target deadlines for each topic (writing, approval, publishing)?
For a step by step tutorial on creating an editorial calendar, along with a free template, check out this guide by Chris Wilpert of Content Mavericks.
When working on a content schedule, keep in mind that quality is key. Creating the absolute best content that your audience will love, even if it takes a week, is better than churning out poor content twice or thrice a week.
That being said, you must aim at publishing at least one piece of content per week. Only then you’ll have a shot at having at least 50 articles in a year.
Even better if you can do more, without compromising on the quality. But any less than that is not going to move the needle.
Studies have shown that your content marketing starts making a real difference only after you have crossed the 200+ blog posts mark. So the bottom line is, publish as often as you can without sacrificing quality.
Your content strategy will also require you to decide on your primary format. The 3 most popular are blog posts, videos and podcast episodes.
However, for best results, you need to focus only on one medium first. Don’t try to spread your efforts thin by investing in all at once.
In order to decide what’s best to begin with, you need to take a few factors into consideration.
- Which of the formats is the best fit to the niche and topics you have picked?
- Is it the kind of content that will benefit from showing rather than telling?
- What do you do best? Writing or speaking in front of a camera?
- What will you be able to learn and start the soonest?
Writing blog posts is best if you know enough to be able to write on your own, or review the work submitted by other writers. If you are a good talker and can learn to record and edit high quality video/audio, go for a YouTube channel or podcast.
As for the length of the content, whether you are writing a blog post or recording audio or video, don’t be afraid to take as many words or time you need to cover the topic at hand.
Studies have shown that most readers/watchers like in-depth content which teaches them everything they need to know for a given topic. I personally recommend blog posts longer than 2000 words.
In-depth content also helps with ranking high in search engines and keeps your audience on your website or channel for a longer time, improving brand recall.
Content Readability & UX Design
In today’s day and age, providing a great experience to consumers is as important as your product or service. Packaging and presentation play a major role in determining success of a product.
Same goes with your content. Its readability, look and feel, and user experience matters more than ever. In addition, it has to render well on the most commonly used devices like smartphones, tablets and desktops.
So your content strategy must also include how your plan for the UX that encloses your content and deliver the best reading experience. Here are some things to think about:
- What will your content pages look like?
- What will be your content fonts, width, line height etc.?
- What widgets, banners etc. will be there on content pages?
- What meta-data (categories, date etc) will be shown with the content?
- Will comments be allowed, and with or without registration?
- Will there be an author bio below content?
- Who will be listed as author: actual writer, VP, CEO or someone else?
- What colors will be used for all these elements?
- How will you direct readers to related content?
A lot of these decisions will be easier to make if you already have a clear brand identity and website UX strategy.
The bottom line is, the easier you make for people to consume your content, the better it will perform.
Distribution & Monetization
Just publishing high quality content as per your schedule is not enough. You also need to set aside proper time and resources for adequate promotion and monetization.
The best of the best content will not reach your target audience and make a good impact if it’s not spread and distributed.
So your content marketing plan must consider and decide on the main ways and channels you’ll use to put your content in front of interested prospects and customers.
Putting Content In Front Of Prospects
There are innumerable ways to bring in visitors. The two most popular of all organic traffic sources are search engine optimization (SEO) and social media, especially Facebook.
When it comes to content marketing, compounding growth is what matters. This means you will not be focusing much on traffic sources like social media, which cannot give you recurring traffic, unless you have the budget for ads.
If the budget is limited, it’s wise to focus on just SEO in the beginning. For best results, you must have so many pieces of high quality content that your website pages show up on search engine result pages for several keyword searches.
This will ensure that your target audience finds you through search engines not just once, but on multiple occasions.
In addition, you'll need to implement a blogger outreach process in place to gain backlinks and exposure for your content.
While SEO will be your primary source of new traffic, it’s the returning traffic that will ultimately turn into leads and sales.
99% of people who come to your website are visiting it for the first or second time. These people may not be ready to buy or have the need at the moment.
But for when they change their mind or develop an active need, you want to make sure they remember you. The more exposed they are to your brand and website, the more likely they are to keep you in mind.
That’s why for the people who have visited your website once or twice, it’s crucial to employ ways to bring them back again as frequently as you can, eventually converting them into leads and customers.
Putting Content In Front Of Customers
Once someone buys your product or service and becomes your customer, you cannot take them for granted. You want to have them stay with you for as long as possible.
You build a real business only when they keep using your product or service, and are so happy with you that they’ll readily buy when you cross-sell or upsell new offerings.
In this regard, it’s essential to properly promote your post-sale content to customers. This includes:
- Content to welcome and onboard customers
- Knowledge base documentation on how to use your product or service
- Updates regarding new features/fixes,
- Instructions to troubleshooting issues with the product
You can share this content with customers on a regular basis via a notification channel like sms, email etc, but only for those who want it that way.
For example, a customer may not appreciate getting email about troubleshooting an issue or using your product to do something that he doesn’t need to do.
The main thing you need to ensure is that all this content is readily available and easy to find on your website when needed. For more details, here’s a great introduction to information architecture.
Visual Brand Identity
All the aspects of design, including colors used in images and typography of your content, should be consistent with your brand assets. The look and feel of your content should match that of the rest of the website.
As humans, we are highly visual and easily notice discrepancies in such areas. If your images are low quality or irrelevant to your topic and brand, it will turn the readers off.
You want to keep all the elements of your content aligned to your brand’s theme, audience and personality. So your content strategy will include instructions from your brand guidelines which are relevant from a content perspective.
A great way to ensure adherence to a consistent brand image is to create some image templates with predefined fonts, colors and overall design. Then use them to create new designs when needed. This will not just ensure consistency but also save time.
Consistent Voice & Tone
Similar to design, your brand’s voice should also be consistent throughout. For example, a consulting firm will want to stick to a professional and authoritative voice, while a theme park will want to write things in a fun, casual way.
How do you want your brand to sound? You should be clear on your tone in terms of qualities like casual or professional, fun or serious, conversational or dictatorial etc.
Once there are specific guidelines pertaining to your brand’s voice, all your content should be written according to these standards. MailChimp’s style guide is a great example of describing parameters associated with your brand tone and voice.
Some parameters will depend on the nature of your brand, while others remain true in any case. In most cases, for example, it’s best to have a conversational tone so the reader feels the author is talking with them.
Also, most of the experts agree that active voice is better than passive voice when writing.
A content strategy isn’t complete without analysis, comparison and selection of tools and resources to be used by you and your team.
When it comes to content writing and management, having systems in place will help everyone collaborate, save time and be more efficient. Here are some of our favorite tools at Smemark:
Content Research Tools
KWFinder - For keyword research, idea generation and content optimization
KeywordTool.io - Another keyword research tool for more ideas
BuzzSumo - Research top-performing content based on social shares and backlinks
Search Engines - Apart from Google, there’s also Bing and DuckDuckGo.
Amazon Books - To research on books/topics selling the most on a topic.
Udemy/Skillshare - To research topics covered in best-selling courses on a subject.
Quora/Reddit - To see what type of questions people are asking on a given topic.
Content Workflow Tools
Airtable - Create a database of tasks and customize as you want.
CoSchedule - Build an editorial calendar to schedule your content.
Trello - One of the most popular, kanban based project management apps.
Content Writing + Management Tools
Google Docs - Create drafts which can be edited and reviewed by many at once.
WordPress - Best CMS for publishing and managing your content and website.
Scrivener - Writing software with special features for creative writing.
Grammarly - Checks your content for grammar and spelling accuracy.
Copyscape - Check if the content is unique or has parts which are plagiarized.
Content Conversion Tools
Sleeknote - Visual popup builder to collect email addresses from your content.
Sumo - Suite of free tools to convert visitors into subscribers and leads.
LeadPages - Lets you create optin widgets and landing pages without coding.
Unbounce - Another landing page builder capturing email subscribers.
TypeForm - Easily create and embed user-friendly forms/surveys on your website.
Content Distribution/Promotion Tools
ConvertKit - A tool built specifically for content marketers to send emails
Mailchimp - Another tool to create email autoresponders/newsletters.
SocialPilot - To automate posting of updates on social media as per a schedule.
Buffer - Another popular social media scheduling software.
LinkMiner - To find out who has linked to content similar to yours.
BuzzSumo - To identify who shared content on social media on similar topics.
Adapt.io - Find anyone’s email address from their website or linkedin profile.
Hunter - Another tool to find someone’s email address for outreach.
If you have made it this far, you can tell a great content strategy involves a lot of effort. And it uses great content to communicate stories that accomplish a brand’s strategic goals.
In this guide, I tried my best to not leave out anything essential, as long as it’s within the scope for this topic. I covered all the things you need to consider and include in a perfect content strategy.
Hopefully, by now you have clarity on how you will plan your goals, the type of content to create and go about content promotion and monetization.
Now it’s time to use what you have learned here and get back to work. Create a kickass content strategy that will get real results and will be a challenge for your competitor’s to replicate.
Did I miss anything? What business are you creating a content strategy for? Do you have any questions? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.