How to Create a Content Strategy that Works

Content Strategy

 

We’ve been hearing about content marketing a lot these past few months.

From headlines saying it’s the new direct sales to statistics showing it’s better than chocolate cookies, everyone and their mothers are talking about content.

It’d be easy to say that content marketing isn’t the golden ticket to success, but… it kind of is.

If you do it right.

And that’s exactly what we’ll show you in this guide!

From creating content to promoting it so you get more leads, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about creating a content strategy that works. Let’s dive in!

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Why Do You Need a Content Strategy?

When we say “content strategy,” what’s the first thing you think of?

Blog posts? Status updates? Instagram images with flamingos?

If those were your guesses, you’re wrong. That’s just content.

And the difference between content without a strategy and content that’s a part of an effective content strategy is huge.

To put it simply: content without a strategy is like taking 50 selfies to find the right one to post.

It doesn’t happen every day, and there’s no formula for success. It’s just luck.

And content that’s a part of your content strategy is like being an Instagram supermodel that knows her angles.

You just know what to do to make the one-and-only selfie you take the right material to post.

It’s also sustainable because luck, no matter how great it is (especially when it comes to your content going viral), and ad-hoc content creation can’t be the foundation of your content marketing.

A content strategy gives you the opportunity to cater to your audience’s preferences and tell them exactly what they want to hear. Consistently and effectively.

Let’s take a look at a couple of situations that usually happen when we don’t have a content strategy:

1) It’s Friday night and you’re on your way home from work. Or you’ve shut down your laptop and decided to get some me-time. Right in the middle of a song on the radio, you realize that shoot, you should’ve posted an article or a social media update (i.e. content).

2) You’ve been adding “content ideas research” to your to-do list for weeks now because you’ve heard all good things about content marketing, but you’re also running a PPC campaign that’s bringing in customers. Sure, you could use more, but content creation seems like an uphill battle.

3) You’re looking at your Instagram analytics and pulling your hair out. Seriously, who even knows what this audience likes? They love the cute dog image, maybe post more cute animals?

4) You find yourself creating a blog post, then an entirely different social media post, crafting copy for each, adding Unsplash images to Canva like it’s the end of the world, and your company’s got 10 different channels you’re managing. You’re a person, not an octopus. Go take a vacation.

While this sounds anecdotal, it actually shows us how complicated things can get when you want to add content to your marketing funnels without a strategy.

So, why do you need a content strategy?

  • It creates a consistent story
  • It saves you time
  • It gives you sustainable and consistent results
  • It helps you organize across channels

Oh, and content marketing gives you 3x more results than PPC for every dollar you spend.

You can also look at it this way: every minute you don’t spend on ad-hoc content creation (which then includes ideation, implementation, promotion and tracking – all at the same time) is a minute you could be spending doing something better.

Or eating chocolate.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the thick of it:

What’s In a Content Strategy?

Content strategy is all about organizing your content marketing efforts, so it’s important to pay attention to the structure.

The key elements of a content strategy are:

  1. Audience information
  2. Topics
  3. Content formats
  4. Channels
  5. Creation and publication implementation
  6. Content calendar
  7. Promotion
  8. Analytics & tracking

We’ll cover these in greater detail as we go but for now, this is all that your content strategy needs to contain.

How to (Actually) Create a Content Strategy

NOTE: It’s a good idea to start taking notes and jotting down ideas. Create a new word or slide document that outlines the following sections. This will be the start of your content strategy.

Now that we know what we have to add to cook up our content strategy, it’s time to take it step-by-step.

We can take an eCommerce store that sells shoes as an example. What does their content strategy contain, and how do they create it?

1. Audience Information

Our shoe store owners have to ask themselves who their audience is.

Example: Their audience is women aged 35 – 55 from the US. They love long romantic walks to the fridge and sensible shoes that help them overcome any challenges life throws their way.

The second question is: What problems are you solving for your audience?

This requires you to know what their problems are and what your product can help them with. If you also know what makes you unique to your customers, use it.

Example: Our shoe store’s audience has a huge problem: there’s not enough sensible (and yet pretty) shoes on the market. Luckily, our brave shoe merchants can help! And not only can they help with sensible shoes like everyone else; the shoes they make are designed in Italy, so they’re beautiful, as well.

This is where a buyer persona comes in handy.

They’re visual representations of your ideal customers, and HubSpot has a “Make My Persona” tool you can use to turn your huge B2B audience into a person that’s representative of everyone.

If you’re in the B2C space, you may find Xtensio or buyer persona templates more useful.

Example: Our shoe store’s ideal client is Mary, 42 years old from Chicago, married with two kids (personal background), a manager whose job requires a lot of walking and travelling (professional background). She takes fitness classes twice a week and spends the majority of her downtime shopping with her kids (lifestyle). High heels aren’t the perfect fit for her, but she doesn’t want to sacrifice aesthetics for comfort (pain points). When she needs information on something, she turns to Google, but she browses Pinterest for fun (where she goes for information). Within five years, she wants to start her own business so she can have more time for herself and her family (aspirations and goals).

Creating a buyer persona like Mary actually has double the benefits: not only does it condense a lot of data into a single person, but it also helps you visualize the human.

So instead of wondering “What would my audience like?” you can just think about pleasing one person.

If you’ve been working for a while, you likely know who your ideal customers are, and you can use it for this step. If you’re only starting out, conduct thorough research.

If you’re creating content for multiple different audiences, you’re going to need to answer these questions for each of them.

2. Topics and Idea Generation

Now that we understand what our audience is like and what they need help with, it’s much easier to think about topics, tone, style, and content ideas.

The first thing to consider are the topics of your content.

The main appeal of content marketing is providing value so you can help your customers establish trust in your business, and there’s no better way to do it than by answering their questions.

A handy tool that you can use for this is Answer The Public. It aggregates all the questions about a topic in one place, and you can even narrow it down by location.

Other tools you can use to generate ideas are:

BlogAbout by Impact – This tool suggests content topics, as well as eye-catching headlines. While the tool is called ‘BlogAbout’, you can absolutely use it for other content format ideas, as well.

HubSpot’s Blog Ideas Generator – Exactly as it says on the tin. You can enter up to 5 subjects, and HubSpot will automatically generate headlines and topics. Again, while it says ‘blog’ in the title, you can apply it to any kind of content.

BuzzSumo – Find out what kind of content performs best in your niche. Bonus points if you sort by Evergreen Score, as this one is going to show you how shared a post in months (and years) after it’s been published.

Out of all these tools, we recommend mixing and matching them to see what’s really going to get your audience going.

Example: Back to the shoe store. They’ve used Answer The Public to make a FAQ section that directly answers the questions of their customers (which is great for SEO).

They’ve also used headline generators to get an idea of what their customers are interested in. However, that seems like pretty fleeting stuff, so they’ve added their keywords to BuzzSumo to check out evergreen content on shoes and finding the perfect fit.

Then they compared the topics they got with topics that are still being shared because they’re so useful. And they made them better.

Speaking of making the existing content better, that’s exactly what the skyscraper technique does (and it’s great if you’re only starting out with content). Taking a good article and creating an even better version of it.

How does Skyscraper content work?

  1. You find the most useful content in your niche (judging by the number of shares – which you can check with BuzzSumo).
  2. You identify the gaps in the content. What do people still want to hear about that hasn’t been covered? What can be covered in more depth? (Check the comments)
  3. Create that content.
  4. Reach out to people who’ve shared content with gaps in them and suggest edits referencing your new article.

Understand how your audience wants to be talked to.

Are they overtly formal? Do they like jokes and memes? Do they want gentle reminders that great potential will take you far, but your feet will hurt if you don’t have great shoes?

Take a look at how your audience communicates and create content that follows a similar style and tone.

3. Content Formats

Now that you’ve got all those ideas, it’s time to pack them into a neat box that’s a content format.

The most popular content formats are:

  • Blogs and articles
  • Video and webinars
  • Social media posts
  • Images and infographics
  • EBooks and case studies
  • Podcasts
  • Newsletters and email
  • Curated content*
  • Press releases

Let’s take a quick look at each:

Blogs / online articles

Exactly like this article. The goal is to create value-adding content and make the information clear so keep away from long paragraphs and boring jargon.

Tools to help: Check your writing with HemingwayApp or Grammarly.

Guest posting / Media placement

Getting into media and blogs is arguably the most important thing you can do for SEO. Offering articles to quality blogs not only gives you awareness into that audience but also valuable backlinks that help drive you up the search rankings. Don’t just blast out a press release, they don’t work anymore.

Tools to help: Contento.

Video and webinars

Video comes in so many forms and shapes, and people love it (it’s 40x more likely to be shared). It’s great for condensing information which can be consumed on the go, showing your (brand) personality, and getting more engagement from your audience.

Tools to help: Lumen5, Rocketium.

Social media posts

The things you post on social media are content, too. And every social network has its native formats that you can use. For example, polls and stories are very good at increasing engagement on Facebook, IG and Twitter.

Tools to help: Buffer for scheduling, Unsplash for stock photos.

Images and infographics

Sometimes a single image really does say a thousand words, especially if it’s statistics.

Tools to help: Canva

EBooks and case studies

Thorough resources on a certain topic. Case studies are in-depth looks at examples, so they’re always an audience favourite.

Podcasts

Audio is on the rise, so if you’d rather talk than write, podcasts can be a great foundation of your content strategy. An important part of their appeal are interviews (for which you only need Skype and an interesting guest).

Tools to help: SoundCloud

Newsletters and email

Their main benefit is that you can actually reach your customers organically, and email has a huge ROI (3800%).

Tools to help: MailChimp

Curated content*

The reason there’s an asterisk is that it’s not content you need to create. But you can absolutely use it in your content strategy to give yourself a break while still engaging your leads and customers. Reposting someone else’s content can make good filler. But you need to do it correctly. Article snippets need ‘blockquote’ tags and Instagram reposts need credit tags.

Tools to help: DrumUp, Feedly

4. Channels

It’s never a good idea to spread yourself too thin. Instead, choose 1-3 channels (that your audience uses) in the beginning.

For example, you can choose a WordPress blog, Instagram and Twitter.

However, you don’t have to create original content for each channel.

You can repurpose it so that one blog post gives you enough material for ten social media posts.

Example: Our shoe store owners made a 1,000-word blog post on finding the perfect shoe. Then they used Lumen5 to turn it into a video and share it on YouTube and social media. They also made a checklist of all the requirements the perfect shoe should satisfy, and shared that on social media.

Turn your post into a video, quote interesting parts, make a listicle or an infographic. There’ll always be someone who hasn’t seen it before.

5. Creation and Publication Implementation

Now that you’ve got topics, formats and channels, all that’s left is to create your content.

You’ve got a few options:

  1. Create the content yourself (or have your team create it)
  2. Outsource content creation

When it comes to outsourcing content creation, you can hire freelancers or a content-writing agency. Find local content creators here

And when it comes to quality media and blogs, you can use a service like Contento to offer your articles to over 700 publishers (and give you an SEO boost, too).

6. Creating a Content Calendar

Essentially, your content calendar is your lifesaver. Or, at least, a nerve-saver.

If you create a schedule of things you’ll post in the upcoming month, you’ll be able to reference it and never find yourself in the position where you’re wondering what to post next.

Why month?

Well, content strategy has to be flexible. If there’s something new happening in the industry that you could reference, a month’s worth of content will give you enough leeway to seamlessly add it to the schedule.

Additionally, you’re giving yourself room for new ideas that’ll come after you see how your content is performing after a month.

The good news is that you don’t have to create 31 original posts. To start; aim for 2 blog posts a month and two media articles (guest posts).

You can also repurpose them and add things such as:

  • Reviews
  • Predictions
  • Curated content from other people
  • User-generated content
  • Checklists
  • Heck, even memes!

Definitely learn from your competitors with this one. It never hurts to take a peek to get inspired. 😉

7. Promotion

Now that you’ve made the best possible article or video on your topic, it’s time to put it in front of your audience’s eyeballs.

Your main source of traffic is going to be from search engines. For this, take a look at SEO strategies that primarily rely on keyword research and interesting content.

Share your articles across your business and personal social media channels.

Boosting your posts is a great way to get your value-adding content in front of the right people.

Boosting content to prospects is a nice easy way for people to become aware of your company.

It’s much more appealing and less salesy, and being salesy is quite possibly the #1 crime in 2019. If you advertise content that adds some sort of value for them, your potential customers will immediately develop trust in you.

Other ways to promote your content are:

  • Through your newsletter
  • Repurpose it and upload it as native to a different platform to reach the audience who isn’t using your standard channels (e.g. Repurpose a blog post as a video with Lumen5 and upload it to YouTube) You could also use the article rewriter tool to change an article a min of 30% and offer it to other blogs as a new content.
  • Share it to Quora and Reddit
  • Post it on your social media more than once

Need more ideas? Take a look at our blog.

And before you ask: yes, you definitely need to include promotion in your content calendar.

It’ll make your efforts more organized and manageable.

8. Track Your Results

Finally, know that your content strategy is going to change. A lot.

And that’s a good thing!

It means that you’re learning what kind of content works better for your audience.

You can use analytics tools native to each platform you’re using (Google Analytics, YouTube, social networks, etc.) or you can get a more advanced cross-platform analytics tools.

However, the main signals you should be looking out for is how your audience interacts with your content.

If they like but don’t click through, you may need a better call to action, or it may be that your content just isn’t appealing to the audience you’ve boosted too.

If they don’t really engage but when they do, they love it, you may need to improve your content promotion.

And if they engage, click-through and buy – congratulations.

You’ve just made yourself a content strategy that works!

Carl Thompson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Carl Thompson
17 years of playing in the digital marketing space. Over that time Carl has worked with many companies, created a clothing label, and co-founding tech companies Tradegecko.com, Bronami.video, and Contento.marketing

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