Many of my new clients tell me they have a content strategy, but upon answering some questions about it, they reveal that what they actually have is a content marketing plan. While many people use the terms “plan” and “strategy” interchangeably, they are two separate concepts — and one is foundational to the other.
If you’re curious about how to create an effective content strategy, let’s take a look at it from my perspective as a content strategist with eight years of hands-on experience in the industry.
What is a content marketing strategy?
A content marketing strategy is a combination of concepts and processes intended to guide all of your brand’s content production. Additionally, your content strategy will lay out your content goals and define a set of metrics to track your progress toward attaining them.
When my clients question the need for a content strategy, I call their attention to these three primary concepts:
• Content Goals: Your content strategy defines your content goals, which are based upon your marketing goals, which are based upon your business goals. The absence of well-defined goals can make you feel like content marketing is a waste of time.
• Messages and Themes: Creating a content strategy means developing the messages and themes that are important to your brand. Messages form the foundation of all of your content while themes build upon them and individual topics bring them to life. Your content strategy defines the former while your content plan deals with the latter (i.e., the topics themselves).
• Creative Processes: A good content strategy provides the context necessary for both creating a content plan and executing it effectively. This means your strategy should define high-level processes, such as who is responsible for ensuring content aligns with your goals, messages, and themes. Even for small businesses, assigning these duties is a must-do.
To sum it up, your business could certainly publish quality content without a content strategy in place. However, once you can look beyond each piece individually and actually see how all of your content connects, you’ll have the control necessary to drive measurable results.
Benefits of a Content Marketing Strategy
With a content strategy in hand, building brand awareness, ranking in the search engines, and catering to customer needs will no longer feel like guesswork. In fact, your content marketing efforts will grow ten times easier once you have a strategy in front of you. So, here’s a look at the primary benefits your company can expect.
Drive More Organic Traffic
Your content strategy in itself does not define keywords or topics. However, by establishing a web of messages and themes, you’ll be empowered to plan content that is interwoven with the overarching concepts that your audience cares about the most. As a result, you’ll be able to effortlessly build out pillar pages and topic clusters, which will give you a major SEO boost.
A content strategy also helps prevent keyword cannibalism by defining a structured content creation and review process. Keyword cannibalism is an issue where content pieces overlap with one another, causing you to essentially compete against yourself in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Not only can this hold back your SEO performance, but it can confuse readers when they’re looking for information on a given topic.
Generate More Leads
Since your strategy will give you the big-picture view necessary to plan content around the user experience and buyer’s journey, it will help you create highly relevant content that your target audience wants to see. At the same time, you will be able to design each piece of content you create around a phase of the content funnel.
When you understand which phase the target reader is in when writing content, you can look back to the messaging you defined in your strategy to make sure the presentation and messages (e.g., call-to-action) are driving the user forward in their journey. Following the guidance of your strategic messaging goals will also help enforce brand consistency and properly convey the unique value proposition (UVP) of your offerings.
Foster Brand Loyalty
The stakeholders and processes defined in your content strategy will ensure that your brand consistently publishes high-quality content. However, beyond meeting quality guidelines, your content strategy also helps guide the creation of content that perfectly aligns with your buyer personas and their associated concerns and preferences. As a result, your brand’s content will be perceived as more valuable and more authentic, keeping users coming back for more.
By using your content strategy to help you publish the right content across your blog, social media, and other channels, your content team will see major improvements in key performance indicators (KPIs) relating to brand awareness, perception, and loyalty.
Continuously Build Authority
Brand authority is best summarized as the amount of trust your audience has in your company. In order to build trust, your brand needs to consistently deliver on its promises by producing high-quality products, being transparent about pricing, offering stellar customer service, and sticking to a fair refund policy. However, building trust is a process that begins long before a visitor becomes a customer, which is where your content strategy comes in.
Because a content strategy ties together your understanding of your audience and competitors and clearly defines your brand’s messaging, it provides the basis necessary for producing thought leadership content that will help establish brand authority. In tandem with your content plan, your strategy helps you produce many types of content, including topic clusters and white papers, which in turn will help you earn backlinks from credible websites, further boosting SEO and authority.
How to Create a Solid Content Strategy
The lack of a documented content strategy is often the biggest hurdle standing between my clients and an effective content marketing plan.
If you think you already have a content strategy, follow this checklist to make sure it’s complete. If you don’t have a strategy at all, start here and work your way through these steps so you can be confident about your brand’s content marketing efforts going forward.
1. Define Your Goals
Explore how business goals, marketing goals, and content goals tie together and learn how to set your own using the SMART framework.
2. Identify Buyer Personas
Discover the importance of buyer personas, review leading examples, and easily create your own using a foolproof template.
3. Map The Use Journey
Learn how user journey mapping can improve the user experience (and boost conversion rates) by eliminating sticking points.
4. Develop Brand Messaging
Build upon your audience knowledge to solidify messaging and themes that will resonate with your target readers.
5. Select Your Channels
Create a content distribution strategy for your brand by prioritizing the right content types and channels (i.e., LinkedIn) based on your target audience.
6. Layout Your Brand Guidelines
Ensure a consistent brand voice across all channels by establishing guidelines and designing a brand book using my proven template.
7. Delegate Responsibilities
With benchmarks in place, ensure that your team upholds your branding and content strategy by delegating responsibilities to stakeholders.
8. Choose a CMS
Make publishing and sharing your content easier by choosing an intuitive content management system (CMS) for your business.
9. Map The Content Funnel
Start connecting landing pages, articles, and other assets together within the context of the content funnel to improve audience retention and conversion.
10. Plan Your Content Calendar
Using all of the information you’ve gathered, learn how to generate unique ideas that your readers will gobble up.
At the risk of overwhelming you, the ten steps I’ve outlined above are really only a glimpse at the framework that I follow. However, you don’t need to hire me to unlock this framework for your business. To inspire growing brands, I break down my entire framework right here on my website for free — no need to even share your email address.
Follow My Content Framework
When I began my career eight years ago, I primarily worked as a ghostwriter. Back then, I poured hours into topic and keyword research as I strived to produce great content for my clients. However, it was only a matter of time before I realized that many of my clients had no idea if their content was even reaching the right audience, much less contributing to their goals of building trust or driving conversions.
As I began working with larger companies that did have that underlying content strategy, I began to explore the intricacies of content marketing and I started to see what many of my clients lacked. From that point forward, I kindled my passion for digital marketing and developed my own content framework, inspired by that of the successful companies I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with. Now, I use my framework for every client that doesn’t have an effective strategy in place.