Content marketing has proven its ability to drive traffic and attract buyers. But not on its own. Publishing content with no strategic roadmap is a waste of time and effort. To gain the results you expect, you must have a detailed and executable digital content strategy. That strategy then becomes the basis for everything you do.
Strategies provide purpose, goals, and directions on how you’re going to get there. Without this foundation, your brand won’t see the benefits of content marketing. So, let’s talk about how to build a strategy that drives results.
What Is a Digital Content Strategy?
There are lots of definitions of content strategy available from experts in the field. At a high level, a content strategy acts as a guide that dictates what, why and how content should be developed across an organization in order for the business to reach its goals. A strategy is concrete, not abstract. It delivers a clear framework of all aspects of a brand’s content. Digital content strategy is a subset of that with a focus on how a company will leverage the variety of digital channels to deliver the content.
Ideally, an organization begins its content marketing journey with a strategy. That doesn’t mean the approach is static. It will evolve as your objectives do. It will also change once you have content analytics that help you understand what actually works. Finally, it can progress as the needs of your audience change.
While it’s easy to believe that every brand producing content has a strategy, this isn’t the case. In the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) 2019 B2B Report, only 65 percent of content marketers said they had a documented strategy.
An additional 32 percent said their strategy is undocumented. Undocumented strategies are not typically followed closely, and you run the risk of getting off course when content asset requests start flowing in. If you’re going to do it right, write it down.
The Importance of Having a Content Strategy
Content marketing starts with goals and moves in cycles through research, themes, key messaging, and customer personas.
A content marketing strategy is always evolving. It’s a fluid set of guidelines, goals, and principles. As your buyers, industry, and products change, so will your content. That’s why it’s extremely important to build a strategy for ongoing content marketing.
This roadmap outlines how you’ll create, publish, and govern content. Like any strategy a business uses, it’s not stagnant. Rather, it’s meant to change over time. Both internal and external events will prompt this change.
Content marketers don’t fear change. They know it’s inevitable. You’ve likely had to rapidly pivot your content marketing to address the pandemic and all its consequences. This is, of course, a universal example. Others won’t be so broad and may be more niche, depending on your vertical and audience. But change will always be there, so it’s good to prepare for it with an ongoing content marketing strategy.
As you know, content marketing is a long game. It’s something that enterprises keep building upon to attract new customers and retain existing ones. Having a strategy in place to sustain consistency in content marketing and aligning every piece with customer needs is even more critical for large teams. It allows for everyone to be on the same page and understand big-picture objectives for content.
Creating a Digital Content Strategy: 11 Steps
No matter where you are in your content marketing maturity, you can use these steps to either develop or improve your strategy. Here are the fundamental steps you should take.
1. Define Your Goals and How to Measure Them
Start with your goals. What do you expect to achieve from producing content? This needs to be quantifiable. Beginning with objectives helps you complete all the next steps. Here are some common goals:
- Increase blog traffic
- Gain more followers and engagement on social media with original content
- Build email lists with gated content offers
- Expand thought leadership
Based on the goals you set, state how you’ll measure them. If the goal is blog traffic, you’ll want to monitor page views and track month over month changes.
2. Know Your Audience
You’re creating content for your buyers—not your executives. This is a common contention in the world of content. Brands have an inclination to write about how wonderful they are. But that’s not going to resonate with audiences. You need to understand who your buyers are and what matters to them.
Really knowing your audience involves:
- Identifying their pain points and challenges
- Finding out where they seek content
- Understanding where and how they seek information
- Recognizing their goals and motivations
All these elements should be part of a buyer persona. You will likely have more than one, so as you begin to plan out your topics, make sure that each one relates to one of your personas.
3. Update Your Buyer Personas Often
Some experts would say that annually revisiting your buyer personas is enough. However, that’s not always the best rule of thumb. Instead, you should update them as disruptions happen. Whenever something occurs, it’s critical to think of the impact on your audience.
For example, Apple is rolling out iOS 14 soon and along with that, changes are coming to the IDFA (identifier for advertisers), which is how companies attribute user acquisition from campaigns. These changes are significant for anyone in the mobile app marketing ecosystem. For any company in the space, they have to think about how this will impact the brands, advertisers, and developers with which they work. All those buyer personas need a refresh now because their challenges and motivations will evolve due to this shakeup.
4. Get the Resources (People, Tools) You Need to Be a Content Publisher
One of the most critical parts of your content strategy is defining what resources you need to execute it. Who needs to be part of our content operation (roles, skillsets, etc.)? What tools are necessary to consistently publish high-quality content that your audience wants to read?
On the people side, most content operations include a variety of strategists/planners, writers, designers and technology specialists. More and more, we’re seeing these capabilities brought in-house, but you also may leverage agencies and freelancers for a variety of projects. Having a strategy in place is key here in that it dictates the types of content and the volume of content you want to produce. Then it’s basically a reverse engineering exercise. How many people do we need on the team to realistically get all that done on a regular basis?
Budgets often determine where you will ultimately land. You may have grandiose plans for a large content output, but if you don’t have the budget for all the people you’ll need, you’ll have to scale back your plans and prioritize.
On the tools front, you’ll benefit greatly from content marketing software. Such a platform will include various features, such as a content calendar, workflow builders, content automation capabilities, content analytics, and more.
Having one single platform to manage all this is essential for organization and consistency. Plus, it makes the process transparent.
Most enterprise content teams struggle with organization and transparency in their content marketing. Your strategy may be in one place, workflows in another, and a content calendar somewhere else. That makes the content development process more difficult, and it’s certainly harder to sustain ongoing efforts.
Instead, you should buy a content marketing platform that offers one central hub for everything. It’s where your strategy will live and be accessible to all stakeholders. Your content calendars are here as well, fully transparent to all. Having everything in one place helps you streamline content workflows so you can be more efficient and productive. It’s a must for teams dedicated to driving results from content marketing.
5. Perform Content Audits
Another aspect of keeping your content marketing strategy ongoing is to conduct periodical content audits. This practice is essential because it enables you to have a clear picture of what state your current content is in, and if you have enough in each bucket.
Buckets consist of themes, topics, buyer personas (target audiences), buyer stages, and formats. When you complete a content audit, you should know how much content you have in each of these buckets. You may find deficits. If so, go back to your strategy and try to discern why.
6. Outline Your Content Creation Parameters
The parameters of content marketing involve big themes and details. These parameters provide every person in the content team full visibility. They also ensure consistency. Here are some of the areas you should identify.
- How frequently will you produce content?
- What keywords are important to your audience?
- What types of content will you produce (blogs, ebooks, white papers, videos, infographics, etc.)?
- Content guidelines (length, SEO best practices, formatting, etc.).
7. Create Topic Clusters
After you have the parameters, it’s time to create topic clusters. Look at the main areas that converge between your solutions and customer pain points. You are building content to be relevant to your audience, helping them answer questions and find solutions. Keep this in mind.
You aren’t going to be granular when creating topics for the strategy. That happens in your content plan and on your content calendar. But your strategy should address topic areas.
For example, if you run a recruitment company for IT talent, your categories might include:
- How to recruit
- Challenges in recruiting
- Reducing churn and turnover
- New employee onboarding
From these four main topics, you’ll then plan out content for each.
8. Account for SEO
We’ve already talked a bit about keywords and SEO, but it deserves its own step. SEO is instrumental to ranking organically, which is what great content marketing can deliver. However, you should write for people first, Google second.
Your SEO strategy should be more than just the keywords you’d like to rank for, their search volume, and competition. You should use tools that let you see who your content competition is. If you want to rank for “IT recruiting best practices,” you need to have a strategy that lays out how you’ll do it.
It should include:
- How to analyze content that ranks well for the keyword now
- How you’ll define keyword opportunities (will it be based on volume? Competition? Both?)
- What new or different angle you can spin
9. Decide on Distribution Channels
Content can’t just exist on your website. You should consider the channels for distribution. This can be a broad description that you later refine in the planning stage. It will include social media, email campaigns, or paid avenues.
10. Get Feedback from Non-Marketing Folks
Marketers can sometimes live in a bubble—hopefully not a silo! If this is the case or if content collaboration is hard to handle and deploy, welcome in some outside perspectives.
More than likely, you don’t have a lot of interaction with customers. Others in your organization do. Make it a habit to connect with groups like sales, customer service, and product managers. They can provide you with the information you aren’t able to find from your research or competitive analysis.
Having their voice can be a significant addition to your content strategy, enabling you to create new ideas for content that are important to your audience.
11. Adjust Based on Performance
Content marketing performance is something you can measure. A variety of content analytics can deliver this information. As your content marketing engine continues, you need to check its performance. From this, you can learn so much.
What you learn should affect your content strategy. For instance, you may see that one topic cluster receives way more views, engagement, and attention, while one may be underperforming.
This indicates it’s time to look at your themes and decide if they still make sense. If your audience isn’t interested in a topic, then it’s not important to them and you should move on to something that is.
Insights & Tips for Content Strategy, Planning and Measurement
Great Scott! I’ve returned from the future with urgent news: content marketing is only going to grow more complex and challenging.
This discipline already encompasses everything from business objectives to audience personas, strategy to keywords, channels to analysis, and beyond. Throw in some tech disruption, content overload, and wandering attention spans, and we have all the ingredients for a full-blown panic attack. Heavy, right?
We’re taking content marketing back to the future to help you set an efficient, productive, and results-driven course for your organization. We’d call it a roadmap, but where you’re going, you won’t need roads; you’ll need a guide:
Here’s what you’ll find in the pages of our latest interactive guide:
- Great Marketers are the Future of Content: Unique insights and inspirational guidance from some of the industry’s brightest minds.
- Content Strategy: Most companies do not have a documented content strategy. Learn how to buck that trend with a savvy, objective-based program.
- Content Planning, Publishing, and Promotion: Your workflow can be smoother than a hover-board ride if you follow these tips for a seamless and effective process.
- Content Measurement and Optimization: A future-proofing imperative for any organization. Creating a sustainable content optimization engine means continual improvement and growth.
So, crack open the guide to get started… No email address required!
Wise Words from the Top Content Strategists in the World
“Quit worrying about how long your content is. Instead, worry about how good your content is.”
Andrew Davis – Keynote Speaker & Bestselling Author
“The exercise of creating your own content is invaluable; it evolves your thinking and makes you stand for something.”
Ann Handley – Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs
“Focus on the customer. Learn what questions they need answered. Then use those insights to tell stories that will both inform and entertain them with an experience they can’t get with others.”
Lee Odden – CEO, TopRank Marketing
“Cultivate a deep knowledge of analytics and to understand how insights from measurement should shape content strategy.”
Brandon Ferguson – Senior Content Strategist, H&R Block
“Using the Say/Hear/Listen framework triangulates how you can best serve customers.”
Robert Rose – Chief Strategy Advisor, Content Marketing Institute
“Buyer personas should be designed to attract people sales wants to talk to.”
Ardath Albee – CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions
“Understand why you create content and tie content objectives with the overall business and overarching marketing objectives.”
Pam Didner – Senior Marketing Consultant, Relentless Pursuit
“Empower individual team members to make decisions on the fly to give a sense of ownership and remove bottlenecks.”
Jason Miller – Head of Content and Social Media Marketing, LinkedIn Sales & Marketing Solutions EMEA
“Ninety-nine percent of processes break down because of workflow and mismanagement, rather than because of a lack of expertise or knowledge.”
Cathy McPhillips – VP of Marketing, Content Marketing Institute
“Influencer marketing will be ground zero of the place where modern business finds its soul.”
Carlos Abler – Leader – Content Marketing & Strategy: Global eTransformation, 3M
“Content professionals need to master the art and science of analytics.”
Michael Brenner – CEO, Marketing Insider Group
“The future of content marketing will be more context-based: delivering the right content to the right person at the right time in the right context.”
Kirk Borne – Principal Data Scientist & Executive Advisor, Booz Allen Hamilton
“Customer loyalty aims to drive retention and up-sell of products and services.”
Celia Brown – Sr. Director, Content Strategy & Marketing, SAP
“The best way to change on-page behavior is to forget about conversion rates for a second, and consider micro-metrics.”
Oli Gardner – Founder, Unbounce
“The most under-appreciated metric by Content Marketers is Page Value. If you are not measuring it, you are sucking without knowing you are!”
Avinash Kaushik – Digital Marketing Evangelist, Google
“Teams will need to properly tag their campaigns and integrate data across channels which will make content analysis much easier.”
Jeff Sauer – Founder, Jeffalytics
Is Your Content Strategy Built for Change?
It all comes back to change. It’s a constant in any discipline, and content marketing may change more often than any other. The key is to construct a content strategy that embraces it and is adjustable based on what’s happening in the industry and with your customers.
But rest easy, content nerds. DivvyHQ brings clarity to content chaos. You already know this if you have a subscription or trial of our software. DivvyHQ helps you blaze your content marketing trail faster than a DeLorean with a full tank of plutonium.
But if you’re still tinkering with your old clunky model – using worn-out spreadsheets, tired processes, and getting poor mileage out of your content – we invite you to gear up with our latest content experience…