So you’ve decided to start creating content, in order to help boost your business. Maybe your goals are to increase the number of leads for your sales team, maybe you’re looking to amplify brand awareness or maybe you’re looking to help the business get an edge over your competitors by showcasing your expertise. Whatever the reason, just jumping in and creating content without planning is unlikely to create the sort of returns you’re looking for. In this post we’ll be talking about content strategy – what it is, why you should have one, and how to develop one.
What’s the difference between content marketing strategy, a content strategy and a content plan?
There’s a lot of different terms to get to grips with when it comes to content. Many people assume these terms are interchangeable, but there are some key differences to know about – so let’s take a look.
Content marketing is an area of marketing where businesses create content – written content, video and podcasts, for example – to inform and educate, showing that they are an expert in their field. This content is distinctly different from sales content, and is likely to help the business to attract new prospects and customers in a more indirect way, rather than screaming ‘buy our product!’.
Content marketing strategy
The content marketing strategy then, is about how you’re going to create the content, and why you’re going to share that information. It will document:
- What is going to be discussed in the content you create
- The types of content that you’re going to create for each topic
- How you’re going to share the content that you’re creating
- When you’re going to post the content for the most success
- How you’re going to measure the success of what you create
It’s a way to keep your content programme on track, so that content doesn’t fall to the wayside, and has a purpose, rather than creating content purely for the sake of creating content.
Content strategy is looking at the bigger picture about how and why when it comes to your business content. It looks at the reasons to create content at a much higher level, looking at:
- What needs to be created
- What should be updated
- What should be removed completely
It considers all the places that your business interacts with customers, including after the customer has completed their purchase. It’s a cross-function strategy, and definitely not just another document for the marketing team to create. You’ll need to get staff from all the different teams in your business involved, including sales, retention, support and customer experience, your marketing and events team, partnerships and internal communications – amongst any others that may need the support that content can provide.
In addition to content for your content marketing, your content strategy will also include FAQ and knowledge base content, handbooks, partnership collateral, and product update or launching of new services, both internally and externally.
Do I really need a content strategy?
We hear this question a lot, and to them we say: Do you really need to create an architectural plan, have a work plan and a budget for materials and labour before you start building a brand new house that you intend to live in? Technically, you don’t need one, but things are going to go an awful lot more smoothly, and you’re going to have a much more successful build that runs to time, and your home will be on budget at the end of the project if you do have one.
You can apply the exact same logic from our house analogy to your content marketing strategy. If you don’t prepare well, know the reasons that you’re creating the content, and the amount of resources that you have to put into your content, things can get messy pretty quickly. Having a content strategy can help you to ensure the content that you create can perform better for your business – because you’ll be creating it with purpose. Your content strategy will help you to hit the targets that you want to achieve, such as increasing brand awareness and making you stand out amongst your competitors, so that you can make more sales. All of these smaller goals add up to help you to achieve your ultimate goal – of your business creating bigger profits.
Advantages of having a content strategy
You might already see the benefits of having a content strategy from what we’ve already said, but let’s lay them out so that it is even clearer.
Your content strategy will save you time and money
This is perhaps the biggest reason that we see companies implementing a content strategy, and for very good reason. You’ll see greater engagement across your teams because they have been involved with creating the strategy, and so therefore they are more invested in the strategy. This will help you use the resources you have available much more efficiently. No more drawn-out meetings or last minute panics!
Because your strategy will help to ensure that you are creating the right content rather than trying to hit multiple targets with a lot of content, you’ll avoid creating the same types of content over and over. We talk about quality over quantity all the time, and it is especially true when it comes to the sort of content you’re going to be creating. Less is sometimes more!
You’ll also reduce the risk of creating and maintaining content that doesn’t work, interferes with the sales process, or is redundant. By having a content strategy, you can ensure that your content genuinely helps with lead generation, recruitment and your customers helping themselves by accessing your content, which means your business can work much more efficiently.
You can ensure your content influences your customers
When you’re creating content, you need to make sure that your efforts are going to do exactly what you want them to. Whether you want to encourage your customers to make a purchase from you, to donate to your charity, or you want them to change their behaviour in some way, you’re going to need to influence them. This will help with several things:
Improving the reputation of your brand, leading to increased brand equity
Your reputation is key to the success of your business. Building trust in your brand is one of the biggest things you can do to help improve the way in which customers see your business. By having a strong content strategy in place, trust in your brand will build, and your business becomes more valuable as a result.
Increasing sales conversions
By proving the expertise your business holds, and increased trust, your sales are almost certain to multiply too. Once people have converted to a paying customer (and they’ve received great service from you) they are likely to follow you on your social media, and become a repeat, loyal customer, as well as recommending you to others, which leads to further conversions.
You’ll be ahead of the game if a problem arises
If you’ve got a plan for what you’re going to create and when, you won’t have to think about what needs to be done. If your business encounters a problem or crisis, then you are likely to not have time or energy to think about your content. Your content plan will help you to ensure that you are at least a few weeks ahead, which will minimise disruption and maintain posting.
It can help attract more of the right people to your business
As existing customers or social media followers consume your content, they’re likely to share it, either with their social media followers, by email or in person – which can help your content reach more of the type of customer that you want.
When we’re talking about attracting the right people, we’re not just talking about your customers. When you need to recruit for your team, having great content will encourage talented people to apply for those roles, because they will see the expertise your team already has. Many people make career moves in order to continue to learn and grow, so although your content will influence your customers, it’ll also have the rather excellent side effect of helping you to get the right people for your team too.
It will help you create business assets that endure
Providing the right content for your customers will give you a serious advantage over companies that don’t, both in terms of customer support and in terms of SEO. That means your content plan can ensure you’ve got a good mix of time-sensitive and evergreen content, which when shared on the right channels, can continue to be relevant for a long time to come.
Not only that, by creating a strategy your team will have a clear idea who they are creating the content for. This means that as your content is shared across your social media, you’ll be able to monitor feedback, which will help you to innovate and refine your range of products or services further.
Challenges of creating a content strategy
Although your content strategy is going to be a fantastic asset to your business, there are a few challenges that you’ll need to consider.
Knowing what to create
With a bit of luck, it will become clear what your team need to create when you’re doing your content audit. If it isn’t immediately clear, then working with an SEO expert can help you identify key words and key phrases that you need to include, as well as an assessment of your competitors which will help you further.
Knowing when to post
Scheduling your content shouldn’t be done at random, especially when you’re sharing on social media. Contrary to the claims of many posts, there isn’t really a ‘best’ time to post your content – otherwise everybody would simply post then. Your audience research should give you a really good idea of the right sort of time to post content, and share it on your social media, so that you can reach the biggest audience.
Knowing where to share your content
With a bit of luck, you’ll have experts on your team who know exactly where the content you create should be shared. But not every business is that lucky! Knowing where to share the type of content that you have can be a bit of a challenge, and there isn’t always a right or wrong answer. Sometimes it is a case of giving something a go and seeing what works, then trying something else if it doesn’t.
When you’re putting a strategy in place, you need to know how you’re going to measure the success of your work. Knowing how to measure the success of your content strategy can be a challenge, but if you’ve established what you want to achieve from your strategy, it is easier to identify the KPIs you’re going to work with.
Steps to creating your content strategy
Define your goals
Establishing what you want to achieve from your content can help you to create a really useful content strategy, and help your creatives to write or record with purpose. Whether you want to increase sales, to increase traffic to your website, or something else entirely, make your targets SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. This way, you can make sure your content strategy can move your company with purpose.
Be clear about your audience
Knowing who you’re creating your content for can make the content much easier to plan, write or record. If you’ve already got target customers established, or you just know the demographic information for the type of person you’re looking to target, it is well worth taking a moment to define your audience.
Don’t forget about your customers that have already converted to paying customers when you’re creating your content though. Of course you’ll want to encourage new customers to engage with you, but keeping existing customers engaged provides a much bigger return on your investment. With that thought in mind, be sure to write posts that benefit your long-term customers, and to do so consciously, on a regular basis will help to ensure that they know they’re not an afterthought – which will encourage them to do further business with you.
Do a content audit
Finding out what you already have can help to prevent you from doing the same work twice, and can really help you to identify the gaps. You might find a blog post that could be revised and further information added to it in order to get a lot more hits, or you might find material that can be repurposed. Unless you’re right at the beginning of setting up your company, you’re almost certainly not starting from scratch.
Identify your niche
Your niche is the part of your business that sets you apart from your competitors – it is what makes you unique. You need to know your niche, and why people should buy from you instead of your peers before you start creating your content so that you know what you’re going to be telling your customers. You won’t be using this as a ‘sell sell sell’ strategy in your content marketing of course, but you will be aiming to make it clear by what you’re including in your content.
What sort of content are you going to create?
There’s a wide variety of content that is valuable in content marketing – and once you’ve worked out what topics you’re going to cover in your content, you’ll need to establish how you’re going to cover each. Some topics are more visual than others, no matter how well written a post you can create, so be sure to allocate the time and resources accordingly.
Blog content works on so many levels for both you and your customers! Published on your website, blog content can help to improve traffic to your website. As your blog content is indexed by the search engines, the algorithm looks to understand what your content is about by finding keywords and synonyms of those keywords. And since the search engines look to understand the expertise, authority and trust for your business, your blog content is even more valuable. Through your blog content, Google and Bing will understand that your business is an expert in your field, and begin to present your content ahead of your competitors.
Customers are looking for additional value from the businesses that they work with. By providing regular blog content, you’re not just ensuring that the search engines find your business trustworthy and understand that you are experts, you’re also showing both your existing customers and potential new customers that you’re more than capable of delivering what you promise.
We highlighted some of the least used, but most effective blog content strategies in our B2B content marketing statistics post. The most successful posts contain:
- More than 10 images per article
- More than 2000 words
- Video content
- Keywords and key phrases
Not only that, publishing daily is highly recommended too, with analytics being checked for each post that is created. This might not be possible in your business, so be realistic about how much content you can create, and favour fewer quality posts less often than poorer quality more often.
eBooks are exactly what they sound like – electronic books. They’re normally much longer, with a much deeper amount of detail than blog posts, which means they are generally published on a much less regular basis. eBooks are often based on research that content writers have done for their blog posts, and worked into a different format that provides much more value in one downloadable eBook.
Although there are a range of eBook formats including EPUB and MOBI, when businesses publish eBooks to increase business, they’re usually published as PDF. There are a number of reasons to publish in each format though, and depending on what the business wants to achieve from publishing the eBook will impact on the best format to use.
eBooks are very often used to help attract new customers and increase lead generation, combined with a landing page where customers are usually required to submit a form with their contact details in order to download the book. No matter how long the eBook, they’re going to take a lot longer than other content to put together, even if they are based on existing work.
As we mentioned when we talked about blog posts, customers – whether they are B2B or B2C – want to know that your business is trustworthy, and that you provide the kind of service they are looking for. Case studies do exactly that by discussing how your business was able to solve a problem for the customer. Some of the best case studies that we have seen have been illustrating where the company providing a service made a mistake – but shows how they were able to resolve the issue and why they customer was left feeling happy.
So you’re looking to highlight the success of your business with a particular customer (or group of customers), but the great thing about case studies is that they really can take almost any form you want them to – a long or short form blog post, a video, a podcast discussion, even infographics can work.
Creating templates that your customers can make use of can be a great way to provide extra value, while at the same time increasing the number of leads you are able to generate. This is true for loads of different businesses – create a tool that your customers can use to save time and increase their success, that they will refer back to regularly, and they will keep you in mind for future business. That’s even more true when you’ve added your branding to the template – because they will see your logo regularly and be reminded just how great your business is.
Infographics are an incredibly versatile way to organise and curate data in a way that can be more visually appealing than words alone. If you’re creating a post that you want people to share on social media, infographics can be a great way to achieve that.
Although you might assume that you need to be an expert graphic designer to create infographics that get shared, you don’t need to be. There are plenty of design tools that are available online for those of us whose talents lie outside of the visual arts, and these tools make it incredibly easy to create infographics and take all the guesswork out of sizing and so on. We love Canva because of their sheer number of templates that are available for free, but there are loads of other alternatives too, so find the one that works for you.
Of course videos are a successful way of getting information to your target customers. You only have to look at how successful YouTube is to see the value of video! But it is infinitely more challenging to create high quality video content. There’s the need for specialist recording equipment, time to practice, to record, to edit and to optimise that you’ll need to factor in. It’s not as simple as recording a short video on your smartphone and uploading it (although there is a time and a place for that kind of content – on your Instagram Stories!).
To be really successful with video content marketing, you’ll need to spend – but you are almost guaranteed to see return on your investment straight away. Video is significantly more likely to be shared on social media, and it can increase the amount of time visitors stay on a web page dramatically – leading to greater conversion rates. Still not convinced? Take a look at the video statistics section of our content marketing statistics blog post – the proof that you should invest in video content is right there.
Creating a podcast can help increase the reach of your brand, even if your customers are unlikely to read any of your written content. Podcast listening figures are exploding worldwide year on year, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it slowing down.
Like video, podcasting isn’t a medium that is all that easy to set up and run with. You’ve got preparation time to take into account, as well as the time to record, the recording equipment itself, the editing time and the time you need to spend optimising your podcast. But once you’ve got your equipment and defined how often you’re going to record; podcasting is a pretty flexible medium. You might choose to host discussions with team members, or interview customers (presenting a case study type of conversational podcast), or something completely different. Whichever you choose, there’s a world of possibility in podcasting for businesses.
Of course we’ll get to social media in our next section, when we’re talking about where and how you’re going to publish your content. But you’ll need ideas for social media posts that aren’t just sharing links to your blog posts, podcasts and video content. The beauty of social media though is that you’ll be able to repurpose parts of your existing content to create posts – so you might use a quote, a screenshot or a section of audio from your content, and wrap it with a unique take to entice your followers.
Where are you going to publish your content?
This is probably a really easy question to answer. You’re going to be posting on your website, and on your social media channels.
Your own website just makes sense – you’ll benefit from all that extra traffic because of the increase to your domain rank, and it will probably be the first place that any customers who are entering the top of the marketing funnel will look. They’ve discovered your business, so they head to your website to find out more. Then, they’re likely to follow the link from your website to your account on their preferred social media channel, where they follow you – which means they’re likely to keep you on their radar for a future purchase. Perfect, right?
On the other hand, some customers will find your social media posts first – either because they’ve found a post that has been shared, or they have searched for a hashtag on a social media channel. Once they’ve found your post, they might visit your website and follow you for a while before they finally visit your website and convert to a paying customer.
A lot of the time, that’s pretty much how it works, but that’s not the end of your work. You can’t just post links to your content and think you’re done. Different types of social media demands your content to be packaged differently – even if you’re ultimately promoting the same blog post, for example. If you’re posting on Instagram, you’re going to need a great image, with a caption that makes sense and encourages your followers to find the post, whereas on Twitter you’re going to use text to convince your followers there to read your post. With LinkedIn, you’re going to need a much more professional way to present your post. If you’ve got really evergreen content – the type of post that will be relevant more than a few years from now – then pinning it on Pinterest boards (with the right keywords of course!) can help to ensure that your business can continue to reap the benefits.
These aren’t the only places you can promote your content though. If you’re doing email marketing, you can be utilising your content carefully there – especially for your video content. Including video on an email header means recipients are almost 20% more likely to open the email, and embedding your video in the email itself can increase click-throughs by up to 300%.
How will you manage the creation and publication of your content?
Keeping your content creation organised will mean that you’re able to stay on track better, and know that you’re going to hit those all-important KPIs. Creating an editorial calendar is a great way to ensure you stay on track, alongside a social media content calendar, which will help to ensure that you’re pushing your content on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and so on.
Do you need a CMS?
Having a way to create and manage, as well as tracking your content can be a really good idea for most businesses. We’re not going to go into this in too much detail here, since there are so many variables that different businesses will want and need to consider before they make a decision, but a content management system can include content creation, publication and analytics. In most cases, these type of systems will make it much easier to handle your content. Examples include the HubSpot CMS, WordPress and Drupal, as well as Shopify and SharePoint.
Decide the content ideas and formats you’re going to use
Once you’ve come this far, it is time to begin creating the ideas that you’re going to work with. Although you might have already considered creating content for the type of thing your customers ask you regularly (and do put that on your list, because it will be incredibly valuable for both your customers and your sales and support teams!) that isn’t the only way you can find ideas for your next content. There are plenty of content idea generation tools that you can use to create ideas – not just for now, but for up to a year ahead! If you’re still not sure where to start, you can talk to your SEO expert, who will also be able to guide you further with this.
Once you’ve collated the ideas for titles and what you want to create, you’ll need to establish how you’re going to create that content. Some content is more effective in video form, while others may work better as a blog post. While you’re establishing how you’re going to create it initially, think about (and make notes!) about how you can repurpose that information, to save your team from needing to do the same research over and over.
What to include in your content strategy
Although we’ve suggested some documents that you might want to include in your content strategy, this isn’t set in stone. Every business is unique, and there may be other documents that you find useful to include, and some of the ones we’ve suggested may not be relevant for your business – so take this as guidance, rather than a template.
Your business case will state the reasons that you’re going to be creating the content that you’re intending to, of course, alongside the risks to your business and how you envision a successful strategy panning out. If you need to get approval for implementing a content strategy – either from investors, a senior management team, having a business case will almost certainly help you to get it approved.
This next document will include all of your targets for your content, as well as the value you’re aiming to provide and the details. You’ll also want to include any challenges or potential opportunities that you are likely to come up against as you work through your strategy.
Target customers and content maps
Having a full description of your target customer is a good idea in your business – it can help your sales team, and your marketing team to get on the same page with how to address your customers. Including these personas in your content strategy can help remind team members who they are creating content for, and what their encounters with your business might be like.
Creating content maps that work with your target customer information can help you to understand at what point they are likely to see content from you – which can help your team to refine their approach to each piece of content.
Brand story & guidelines
You’re likely to have a brand story already – usually your marketing team will have created something like it, and you can use this to inform the guidelines for your content. You’ll be able to establish what messages you want to put out, establish how you’ll stand out against your competition, and how it will impact your business once you’ve got those messages out there.
This one does what it says on the tin really – it documents the channels that you’re going to make use of for your content, the processes that are required and why you’re going to use each channel. If you’re going to link to the same piece on several channels, you will need different approaches, but you’ll need to ensure that your overall message is the same. You’ll also put that information in this part of your strategy.
Who should know about my content strategy?
It really is up to you, and it will probably depend how many people you have in your business, but most of the time it is a good plan to make it available to everyone in the business. By doing so, you can make sure that everyone who is involved in selling to customers, dealing with customers or marketing to customers – whether that is in person, by phone or online – can all be singing from the same song sheet.
If it doesn’t feel like the right thing to share absolutely everything with every member of staff you have, then you might consider sharing certain parts of it with different departments, to ensure they have the right approach. Whether you’re sharing just a short summary, or the whole content strategy, make sure it is easy to access. Save it on a shared drive, or on your intranet rather than printing, both to save paper and to ensure that every time it is accessed, it is the most recent version.
When your strategy is in progress
Once you’ve got your strategy under way, there are a few things that you’ll want to do to keep things going in the right direction.
Pay attention to your results/metrics
You’ll be doing this to understand the performance of your content in terms of your KPIs, but you’ll need to assess how well it has performed for you so that you can inform your next editorial calendar and social media schedule. This will allow you to establish where things did and didn’t work, which will help you decide on your next lot of content, and avoid creating content that your customers simply aren’t interested in.
Listen to feedback from your customers
This is really easy to do by looking to your social media channels – when people share content they very often comment about it too. But if you’re sharing your content as part of email or any other marketing efforts, it is also worth having your sales team mentioning it as part of their patter, and including questions about your content in any surveys your team might be putting out.
Increase the reach of your content
Continuing to increase the numbers of people that see your content will help to increase the return on your investment. Not only do you need to create new content, but you’ll also need to review your old content periodically too. If you can update content as it becomes popular, or add another product to refresh the piece, or add different or new content, you’ll get more value and potentially reach more customers.
As time goes on, resharing your content will also allow you to get more value from it too. Don’t just share your content with the same hashtags and keywords though – be sure to check the relevant keywords and phrases now, so that you can reach new customers who might be searching for different terms.
When should a content strategy be referred to?
Your strategy should be referred to often – such as when someone has a new idea about something, or you think there is a need for a different type of post. When different topics start trending on social media, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon, but they aren’t always the right fit for your business. Be careful to consider the wider implications for your business with such trending topics, whether you decide to add a post that uses those hashtags or not.
How often should a content strategy be updated?
There isn’t really a right or wrong answer here – since every business is different and has different needs. But you should definitely look to update your content strategy periodically – whether that it every six months, every year, or to a different time scale, depending on the needs and demands of your business. Some aspects of your content strategy probably won’t change – your business goals are likely to remain constant unless you’re making major changes to your company overall.
Even if things are going well, it is worth doing a review, because there is nearly always room for improvement.
At first, creating your content strategy might feel like a bit of a box-ticking exercise. But done well, and with the right people for your business involved, it can become a really valuable working document that can help you to guide your team through the required content for your business. There’s a lot to consider, but that time is almost always worth the investment, since if your team follow it well, it will add up to major gains for your business.
Aires Loutsaris is a content marketing specialist working with some of the world’s biggest VC funded startups and eCommerce companies. He has 15 years of experience in organic search optimisation and content writing with over 2500 students enrolled in his Udemy SEO course. An ex-head of two award-winning agencies, he has lectured at the University of the Arts, London College of Fashion on content marketing and has consulted for all three of the Universities he studied at: The Open University, The University of Hull and Kings College University of London. Feel free to connect with Aires on LinkedIn or Facebook.
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