How to Craft a Content Strategy That Actually Works
Content is a powerful marketing tool that helps you connect with potential and current customers throughout their journey on your site. It can push you to the top of search results, gain user trust, and guide leads as they move down the marketing funnel. With the right content, you can achieve the most ambitious of goals. But you must write each content piece with very specific goals in mind.
This step-by-step guide will help you create a content strategy that puts business interests front and center. Whether you’re thinking about investing in content marketing or tired of wasting resources on content that goes unnoticed, this blog post offers a sturdy framework for your content strategy.
What is a content strategy?
Your content strategy is the roadmap of all your content creation and distribution initiatives.
It should match your business needs with the needs of your target audience. This will ensure that the value your content delivers to your target audience further translates into business gains.
Even though your content strategy is only one part of your overall marketing strategy, it can help improve the performance of multiple marketing channels. These include SEO, PPC, email marketing, social media, PR and more.
Note: Every content piece you create should build upon your intended brand image and maintain your distinct brand voice. Consistency is key.
So by creating content that is strategically aligned with your business objectives, you get a much better return on investment.
Now, let’s look at how to do it.
How to create a powerful content marketing strategy in 10 simple steps
We’ll guide you through each phase of crafting a successful content strategy.
Mind that effective content marketing strategies can evolve over time. You may eventually need to adjust your content strategy plan to better address emerging business challenges. You may also need to finetune your chosen approach according to intermediary results.
Step 1. Define your top-level objectives and KPIs
Start building your content strategy by answering this fundamental question: Why create content around your brand?
First of all, it’s important to consider that your goals can vary. Maybe you want to increase your targeted organic traffic or get more leads from demo calls. Or maybe you want to build your brand identity or improve your customer retention rate. Depending on where your business is, the results you’ve achieved so far, or your available resources, you may either target one single objective or several at once.
At this stage, do not limit yourself. List every relevant and desirable goal you have. Make sure that your content marketing goals align with your business goals. Rank your listed objectives based on how resource-demanding they are and how efficiently they contribute to your business goals. For each goal, specify key performance indicators (KPIs).
Examples of objectives and KPIs:
- Create top-of-the-funnel content to raise brand awareness (KPI: monthly organic traffic).
- Write case studies to persuade clients during the consideration stage (KPI: associated conversions).
- Contribute to niche media websites to increase brand awareness and referral traffic (KPIs: pageviews on media sites, referral clicks).
Step 2. Evaluate your existing content performance
To make your goals measurable, you need historical data. Run a content audit to evaluate your current status for each goal identified in step 1. This will help you benchmark your KPIs relative to past performance so you can set realistic expectations. If your list of goals is too long, you may want to shorten it. Focus your dataset analysis around the most impactful objectives of your content strategy.
Based on your collected data, identify outdated content or content that does not perform as expected. You will need to either update and upgrade these content pieces (which requires allocating resources) or delete them.
Step 3. Measure available human resources
Once you identify what NEEDS to be done, align it with what realistically CAN be done, and within a defined timeframe; it’s most common to measure resources on a monthly basis.
If you handle content creation in-house, think of all teams involved. Depending on your company’s structure, this can include design, social, educational, and other teams. Measure the number of working hours you can put in, the number of hours it takes you to create different types of content (blog posts, podcasts, videos, social media content, etc.) and then convert working hours into content units. If you collaborate with freelancers, factor in their contributions. Distribute your resources thoughtfully between recurring content marketing activities (e.g. podcasts) and experiments.
Step 4. Assess and optimize your budget
Examine how your budget is distributed between freelancers’ fees, sponsored publications, dedicated software, etc. Use the content performance data you collected earlier to evaluate if your budget distribution is healthy or needs to be adjusted to reflect your content strategy goals.
Consider investing in automation tools to save time and money on your human resources. For example, according to an experiment, it’s been shown that SE Ranking’s Content Marketing tool can help you create detailed content briefs in 20 minutes instead of two hours. It can even help you write a content piece in one hour instead of three.
Step 5. Specify the time frames
If your company follows a quarterly planning framework, you’ll have to create a content strategy around these objectives that fit within this time period.
If you have flexibility with timeframes, pick the most promising objectives from your list. Estimate how much time you would need to create all the content needed to reach your goals, plus the time needed to measure the outcomes. As a rule of thumb, a good content marketing strategy covers a period of three to six months.
Long-term content strategies outlining yearly plans or even longer can work but may need to be adjusted based on intermediary results.
Step 6. Establish SMART objectives and key results for the selected time span
Now it’s time to make your goals crystal clear. Connect the dots by aligning all the content strategy elements you’ve already worked through. These include:
- Goals you plan to accomplish
- Your selected timeframe
- Historical data analysis
Make your objectives easy to measure by comparing your forecasted results to what you’ve achieved before. Now, you can include specific numbers in your objectives or simply add a measurable KPI to them.
Examples of objectives and KPIs:
- Create top-of-the-funnel blog posts to raise brand awareness (KPI: 10 new blog posts generating 1000 unique pageviews per month, two months after publication).
- Craft five new case studies to persuade clients at the consideration stage (KPI: 100 associated conversions).
- Get three articles published on niche media websites to get 5000 pageviews on media sites and 600 referral site visits.
Step 7. Do research on your audience and define target audience segments
This is where user personas, or ideal customer profiles (ICPs), come into play. Quality content is always written with target users in mind. Knowing who exactly you’re addressing will influence the content formats you choose and the most effective distribution channels. A solid understanding of your audience’s challenges and pain points will guide your focus towards content ideas that resonate with users at every stage of the buying cycle.
Step 8. Generate content topics that match your content strategy goals
Your chosen content topics and formats should align with set objectives and address your target audience’s needs. Depending on your goal (like attracting organic traffic, generating leads, improving retention rate), you’ll need to address the problems your consumers face at different stages of their buying cycle.
For example, if your goal is to grow traffic and brand awareness, your content strategy should include top-of-the-funnel pieces for users who may not even know there’s a solution to their problem(e.g., introducing the concept of water fountains to new cat owners).
If you’re in the SaaS business and your goal is to improve retention, your definition of useful content may be something to the tune of educating existing users about all the capabilities of your product (e.g., creating a how-to guide on how your new AI feature can partially handle client chat requests automatically.)
To brainstorm content ideas, think of everything you know about your user personas. You can also use dedicated tools for generating content ideas, like Mindminster for organizing your ideas, or Answerthepublic for visualising raw search insights. SEO tools with plenty of search metrics, like SE Ranking’s Keyword Research tool, can also be extremely useful.
Pro tip: Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of content topics? Start by identifying missing pillar content that aligns with your ICP and your objectives. If some of your products perfectly solve your ICP’s challenges and you don’t have content that showcases these solutions yet, they should definitely be part of your content strategy.
We advise you to keep a record of all the great content ideas you come across. They may not always make their way into your content calendar, but having a backlog of relevant topics will make it easier for you to craft a content marketing plan in the future.
Step 9. Pick content formats your audience is most interested in
Consider your buyer personas’ content consumption preferences when choosing the most appropriate content types. This can include emails, Facebook posts, tweets, gated templates, blog posts, videos, etc. If you rely on SEO to distribute your content, make sure the topics you select have a decent search volume and are capable of driving your target audience to your site.
Check if the keywords you’ve selected trigger any special SERP features. This may help you choose the most appropriate type of content. For example, if the SERP is dominated by videos or podcasts, consider creating these formats instead of traditional blog posts. You can even invest in both by repurposing content.
Conducting market research and collecting first-hand feedback from your customers about their preferred content types is another valuable approach that will pay off.
Step 10. Set performance benchmarks per content piece
Every content piece you create should contribute to at least one of your content strategy’s objectives. To measure the impact of each individual content piece, set performance benchmarks. The specific content marketing metrics you use will vary depending on your goals. For example, if want to grow your traffic, identify how much traffic you expect to attract from each piece of content. If you are on the hunt for leads, specify the exact number. Use the historical data you collected earlier to make these estimates.
SEO forecasting and overall marketing performance can be tricky, and your estimates may not always be precise, but the more data you accumulate over time, the more precise your forecasts will be. After all, being data-driven is the only way to build a truly effective content marketing strategy.
Bringing it all together
Building a comprehensive content strategy takes a lot of research. You need a clear vision of where you are heading, an understanding of the content that resonates with your readers, and an evaluation of the resources required to produce the valuable content outlined in your content plan. While wrapping your head around all this data can be daunting at first, once you get the hang of it and experience the benefits of thorough planning, there’s no turning back.