“We’re doing content marketing. We started a blog.”
This is a phrase you’ll hear from a lot of marketers. However, those who take this casual approach usually don’t see many rewards in return for their efforts. That’s because casual content marketing without a strategy just doesn’t make sense. Without a plan or direction, you’ll be swimming upstream into uncharted waters. You’ll be shooting at a bullseye in the dark.
Whether or not you have a content marketing strategy in place is a key determiner for success. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s most recent B2B report¹ on benchmarks, budgets, and trends in the industry, 65 percent of the top-performing marketers have a documented content strategy. Only 14 percent of the least-successful marketers have one, in comparison.
Additionally, CoSchedule’s 2018 marketing report² shows similar findings. Nearly 1,600 professional marketers from 83 countries revealed that top marketers who document their content strategy see 538 percent more success than those who don’t.
What a difference a strategy makes.
Building one from the ground up isn’t simple, but it’s worth the time and effort you’ll need to create it. You’ll give yourself the gift of direction, purpose, goals, and a map to follow to ROI.
So, what do you need to start laying those first vital bricks in place? There are six keys to building a content strategy that I’ve learned from seven years in the industry and my own failures and successes with content. My agency now sees upwards of six-figures in annual income thanks to the leads and direct sales we draw in through content marketing. Success is out there, but only with that strategy framework in place.
Brick by brick, you can build your strategy to make your content marketing mighty. It starts with identifying your stand-out factor as a brand.
Find Your Place in the Market and Stand Out
Before you do anything else, you must find your niche in your market and stake your claim on your stand-out qualities as a brand. This will power your entire strategy going forward.
Why is standing out so important? Consider: on average, over 3.3 million Facebook posts are published every single minute, along with over 448,000 tweets on Twitter and over 65,000 photos on Instagram, according to data compiled by SmartInsights³. An additional 1,440 posts are published every minute on WordPress, one of the top blogging platforms in the world.
Everest-sized mountains of content are produced daily, and the only way to get people to notice what you publish is to lean into your stand-out factor. Otherwise, you risk blending in and disappearing – content marketing’s worse-case-scenario, as success depends on people actually reading what you create.
I like to call your major stand-out factor your Content Differentiation Factor, or CDF. This is what separates your brand and website from the content heap.
Once you define your CDF, building the rest of your content strategy is much easier.
The other big part of finding your place in the market is understanding your topic area. What broad topic will you focus on for creating content? Ideally, your topic area ties into your expertise and is relevant to what you sell. It also balances this expertise and relevance with what your audience wants to see and read.
Bridge the Gap: From Just Creating Content to Building Persuasive Content
Before you dive into creating content, you need to know who that content is for. Instead of writing for everyone, it’s better to create content strategically, with specific personas in mind.
Think of it this way: if you create content with no definite audience in mind, 99 percent of those people will have no interest in your brand, your content, or what you sell. On the other hand, if you write to a targeted niche audience, 99 percent of those people will have interest, and are far more likely to become leads and sales.
Would you rather gain one lead from 100 visitors, or 10 leads and two direct sales from 15 or 20 targeted visitors who fit your ideal buyer persona? The answer here is pretty clear. This is how you bridge the gap between just creating random content to creating irresistible, persuasive content that converts — know your target audience!
Once you know exactly who will like, read, want, and need your content, you can target them by connecting them to the marketing lifecycle: where are they stuck on the road to becoming a customer? This information will help you create ultra-targeted content that speaks directly to your persona’s most urgent pain points.
Use Inbound SEO for More Targeted Site Traffic
While you don’t want just any random traffic coming to your site and content, more of the right traffic is always desirable. To create more opportunities for the right traffic to find your content, targeted inbound SEO is a must.
Doing “targeted” SEO just means you’re using keywords in your content that directly reflect your ideal buyer’s search intent. Your content should answer the questions they’re asking, using the keywords they’re typing into search engines. The best way to find those keywords? Research.
I highly recommend investing in one or two paid keyword research tools, like SEMrush or KWFinder — free versions of both are available, but the paid versions are more robust and accurate. These will help you find the most profitable keywords for search intent-targeted content.
Build Online Authority with Consistency
With your goals, topic area, audience, and SEO figured out, it’s time to think about building up your online presence. Building the online authority of your brand should be a key piece of your content strategy for a few reasons. It will build your reputation in the eyes of search engines like Google, which equals higher rankings in search results. It will also build your brand as a trustworthy source in the eyes of your audience, which equals more loyalty, more brand ambassadors, and more conversions.
In general, I like to think of building your online authority as akin to building a house. To create a strong, sturdy content house that your ideal buyers and search engines can find, you need to build up the foundation, walls, and roof on land you own — your own domain. You do that with consistent, high-quality, search engine-optimized content published to your website.
Over time, as you keep publishing top-notch content — especially long-form, informative blogs and articles — your gravitas online will grow. You’ll generate backlinks, start ranking for lots of keywords, and improve your domain authority.
According to HubSpot⁴ data, websites with a blog average 434 percent more indexed pages than those without a blog. Those indexed pages represent more opportunities for your target audience to find your content. They also symbolize how incredibly solid your authority can become if you invest in blogging consistency and quality.
Create Content That Will Build Your Brand
Building online authority and content creation go hand-in-hand. If you skimp on either activity, both will suffer. What does brand-building content look like?
Unsurprisingly, it’s consistent. That means it’s always high-quality with attention to facts, details, and readability. The tone of voice, style, and language in each piece of content matches up with your overall brand voice. Brand-building content is published on a regular, predictable basis, even if that means you’re only posting monthly or bi-monthly.
This content answers the questions your audience is asking and connects to the stages of buyer awareness. It’s informative, entertaining, useful, helpful, or all of the above. It’s mainly published on your website (your content house), but also on industry guest blogging platforms for greater reach.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, it covers topics that connect to your overarching goals. In other words, your content serves a purpose and moves you closer to success — it doesn’t just exist. To help me stay focused on content topics that are profitable, I rely on what I call the three-bucket topic strategy.
I imagine my content goals as “buckets.” Each topic idea gets run past my goal buckets. If one doesn’t fit into any of my buckets or serve to move me toward at least one of those goals, I scrap it.
Content creation is the nuts-and-bolts of a content marketing strategy. Do it the right way, put a workflow in place, and your ROI will soar instead of nose-dive.
Move Forward with a Content Budget, Maintenance, and a Promotion Plan
The final brick in your content strategy framework involves maintenance. How will you maintain your strategy and content marketing momentum into the future? There are three branches of content strategy maintenance: budgeting, promotion, and auditing, tracking, and measuring.
Setting a budget for your content plan must include funding each major content activity. For example, investing in high-quality content consistently might mean you need to hire a content writer, and possibly an editor. As such, budgeting for their fees should be baked into your content strategy. Other ongoing fees might include paid tools and software, web hosting, or adding more people to your team (like a content strategist or a social media specialist).
Promoting your content is an essential activity to keep it circulating in the blog-o-sphere and on the web. Basic promotion techniques include posting to social media, springing for Facebook ads, or updating your email list about your newest posts.
Auditing, tracking, and measuring is about both past and present content maintenance. In the present, scheduling your blogs and content with the help of an editorial calendar helps you stay consistent. Meanwhile, past blog posts can be audited for opportunities to update and refresh them.
HubSpot calls the latter “historical optimization.” In fact, HubSpot reported that they increased monthly leads generated from old posts by more than double using this maintenance technique.⁵ In particular, they optimized old posts for more accurate keywords that reflected user search intent. They also updated and republished old content with new information
This is exactly how you expand the life of your content and keep it working for your brand long after its initial published date. You’ll bring in fresh traffic, new leads, and more sales just from good content maintenance. Now that’s a great strategy.
Does Your Content Marketing Include a Strategy?
Content marketing without a strategy is like a car without an engine. It just doesn’t work.
If you expect content to help you move toward your business goals, you also can’t expect to do it haphazardly. Instead, you need a map. You need a plan. You need a foundation. A content strategy encompasses all three of these, and more. Following these steps will ensure your content marketing plan is intentional, strategic, and goal-oriented from start to finish.
It’s time to stop hoping for results and ROI from content — instead, plan for them. It’s time to start strategizing.