No digital marketing plan is complete without a content strategy. Content is the currency of the web and marketing, and Google continues to increase the influence of high-quality, relevant content on rankings in its search results.
Developing a cohesive plan for your content — or just knowing where to start — may seem like a bigger challenge than the creation of the content itself. With even a minimal framework in place, however, you can take the guesswork out of creating content and turn it into an effective marketing tool.
Here’s a brief guide to get you started, plus recommendations for taking your content strategy to the next step.
Know where you want to go.
As with any type of marketing activity, you’ll never go wrong by starting out with clearly defined goals for your content strategy. Depending on the needs of your business and your overall marketing plan, these goals may include:
- Building your email list
- Attracting new clients
- Ranking for certain keywords
- Driving traffic to landing pages
You can use the SMART goal-setting methodology to create attainable goals that you can track and measure.
Check out the competition.
One of the many tactics we use in our digital marketing campaigns for clients is researching their competitors, because that’s where we can find opportunities for clients that others may be missing. For competitive research related to content, there are a number of great tools available, including Buzzsumo, which you can use to find the most popular content and track competitors’ content, and SEMRush, which lets you check out the content that performs best on competitors’ websites.
Use competitive research to identity gaps that you can fill with your content, especially if that content fills an unmet need of your audience.
Create buyer personas.
Every piece of content should be created with your ideal customers in mind. Who are they? What kind of work do they do? How do they go about researching products or services? What devices are they using when they read your content? These questions and more can help you create a buyer persona — a fictional character that can help you attract not only traffic, but the right traffic.
There’s plenty of guidance to be found online on how to create a buyer persona, but the basics begin with gathering some information:
- Demographic profile: age, location, education, income bracket
- Environment: industry, workplace, job title
- Personal details: family, hobbies, interests
- Challenges: pain points, fears, barriers to success
Whenever possible, don’t just guess at who your buyer may be — interview an existing or former customer or client, co-workers, or prospects. You could also use a survey to gather customer feedback.
Once you’ve done your initial research, starting developing your personas by creating a story around them:
- Name your persona
- Give her a job title, if applicable
- Describe her job skills
- Describe her typical day
- Note where she looks for information
- Note preferences for how she engages or communicates with providers of services or products
- List her goals and challenges
Tailor your content to the buyer’s journey.
Closely tied to buyer personas is the buyer’s journey. Understanding this journey can help you tailor your content to the stage your persona may be in when they encounter your content. There are three main stages of the journey:
- Awareness: Your prospective customer is realizing that he has a problem, or perhaps an opportunity, and is beginning to look into it. Example: “My air conditioner is making a new, weird noise.”
- Consideration: His research has allowed him to clearly define the problem or opportunity. “It looks like pressure’s building up in the compressor, a potentially serious problem.”
- Decision: He’s decided on his solution or approach and is likely ready to make a purchasing decision. “I’m going to call HVAC companies near me that offer 24/7 service and have good online reviews.”
Having an idea of where your reader may be in his journey can help you determine what type of content to offer. For the awareness stage, educational content or research reports can be helpful; during the consideration phase, you can offer expert guides or white papers; and when it’s decision-making time, comparisons, lists of pros and cons, or reviews can help the buyer make a final decision.
With your persona and his journey in mind, consider where your content should ideally be encountered. This may be onsite on a blog or web page, or off-site via social media, emails, or guest blog posts.
Choose your keywords.
For every piece of content you create, you’ll want to build it around a keyword, so you’ll need to do some keyword research. Using your persona, choose longtail keywords (phrases) for which your target audience frequently searches. For help determining which keywords have value for your business and audience, there are online keyword research tools. The more complex and sophisticated tools require a purchase or subscription, but there are several free tools you can use, such as Google Keyword Planner.
Focus on conversion elements.
Your content should contain something that supports conversion — an element that converts readers into engaged consumers. If your goal is to add to your email list, include a call to action and a form for submitting an email address. (If you have a relevant piece of gated content to offer, even better; the consumer gets something of value in return for his or her information.) If your goal is to generate a new lead, have your call to action link to a lead generation form. In any case, remember the goal you set for the content, and add a call to action to tell the reader the next step that can be taken that may achieve your goal.
Create a schedule.
Decide how often your content will be published. Generally, long-form content that requires more time and resources to create will be published less frequently, while a short blog post may be published more frequently. Frequency should also be synced with the needs of your persona in mind.
Create a calendar document to bring together all of the information: target persona, type of content, and dates for publishing. A spreadsheet will do, but there are plenty of online resources for organizing your content schedule.
The above outlines a basic process for a content strategy. Next steps include more research to determine the best places to distribute your content, promoting (or amplifying) it, and analyzing the performance of each piece compared to your original goals.
Keep in mind that your content strategy is a trial-and-error process, but one that you can continue to refine over time as you learn what types of content are working hardest to grow your business.