Content marketing consistently delivers high returns. For example, I’ll show you how it’s increased my own search traffic by 66% in just twelve months.
I’m not alone. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2B marketers have planned to create more content this year than last. That’s for good reason. In fact, about 70% of businesses now use some form of content marketing.
“If you’re not creating content on the web, you don’t exist.”
Lee Odden, TopRank Online Marketing
Strange then, that only around a third (35%) of content creators do so with a documented content marketing strategy.
As I’ll show you, having a written strategy can make a huge difference to the results you achieve.
But how do you create one?
In this post you’ll discover:
- What a content marketing strategy is
- Why it’s so crucial you have one
- How to create a content marketing strategy – including a free Word template you can download and fill in by simply answering just 6 key questions
- How to keep your content marketing strategy in focus so you actually follow it and put it into action
What is a Content Marketing Strategy?
A content marketing strategy serves to direct your content marketing activities so you’re creating content with a specific target audience and measurable goals in mind.
It answers questions such as:
- Who you’re trying to attract
- What content you’re going to create to attract them
- How you will measure the success and progress of your activities.
The majority of businesses who use content marketing do so without a strategy. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of the advice on how to create one makes it overly and unnecessarily complicated. Businesses are put off from creating one before they’ve even begun.
However, as outlined below, it’s crucial you have one in place.
Fortunately, the process doesn’t have to be difficult.
In the section below, on how to create a content strategy, we’ll go through the six key questions you need to answer to create yours.
It doesn’t take long to do. Once done, you then have a clear sense of direction for all your content marketing activities.
“Consumers tune out TV commercials, look past billboards and print ads, and ignore buttons and banners online. They search and find the information they want when they want it. To reach customers nowadays, especially on the Internet, you have to tell them, not sell them.”
Tim Devaney and Tom Stein, Forbes
Why You Need a Content Marketing Strategy
Without a clear, written content marketing strategy, it’s hard to know where you’re going, whether you’ve arrived when you get there, and what progress you might be making.
In fact, marketing strategy issues – including a complete lack of strategy – are the #1 issue for B2C marketers experiencing stagnation in their results from content marketing over the past year (source).
Having a documented strategy – and following it – can make a huge difference. Research shows that:
- 60% of businesses with a documented content marketing strategy believe they’re effective at content marketing
- Only 32% of those who only have a verbal strategy alone think they’re effective
- 62% of businesses who are most effective at content marketing follow the strategy “very closely”.
… having a documented content strategy alone can make you twice as likely to succeed at content marketing.
Neil Patel, neilpatel.com
Content marketing is a long-term approach to business growth. However, without a strategy, there’s less focus on the long-term, and more short-term, less strategic thinking. This inevitably leads to frustration, inconsistency, and ultimately a lack of results.
As soon as you document a written strategy, your business by definition becomes more strategic. You’re better able to pursue long-term goals with the type of consistent action that gets results.
“Marketers who have a documented strategy are not only more effective but also less challenged with every aspect of content marketing.”
Content Marketing Institute/Marketing Profs
One common problem is that, without a documented strategy, there’s a lack of clarity on both:
- Who you’re trying to reach
- The type of content you need to be creating to reach them.
The result is often content that appears to be aimed at different audiences and contains different messages. This causes confusion, and content that fails to resonate with the audience you need to attract for your business.
Creating a documented content marketing strategy brings much-needed clarity on who your audience is, what you need to do to reach them, and how you’re going to measure success.
For example, one key issue that businesses experience with content marketing is a lack of consistency in their content creation activities.
However, if you’ve created a content marketing strategy that states you need to be creating X number of blog posts per week, X number of social media posts per week, X number of infographics per month, it makes it far more likely all these actions will happen. It means you start planning how to do so, and helps keep you and your team accountable to those actions.
You can revisit your strategy periodically and adjust based on what you see working and not working. That makes it more powerful over time, providing for a higher ROI as it becomes increasingly attuned to your business’s needs.
New trends and content marketing techniques will always come and go. With a documented strategy, you can periodically assess which of these might be more, or less, useful to what you are already doing. You can review them based on your stated goals and objectives, and the audience you’re trying to reach.
How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
If it’s a vague strategy that exists solely in your head, it’s not really a strategy at all. To be effective, it must be written and documented.
The number one differentiating factor between a genius content strategy and an average one is the presence of a documented strategy … the key is to have one that’s written out and visible – not merely verbal.
Samuel Edwards, Digital Marketing Strategist
The good news is it doesn’t have to be long, in-depth and take hours of deliberation.
It can, and probably should, fit on a single piece of paper. That way, it can be passed around easily to key team members and stakeholders, and readily understood, adhered to and kept in focus.
After all, a content marketing strategy that isn’t followed is little better than not having one at all.
Far better to keep it short and succinct.
To create one, all you need do is answer 6 key questions as follows. Remember to keep the answers short and succinct so it fits on a single sheet of paper.
Who’s Your Audience?
Content marketing involves creating and publishing a regular supply of content to attract a clearly-defined audience.
Therefore, for content marketing to be successful, you must know exactly who your audience is.
So take time to think about it, and in some detail.
Who exactly are you aiming to attract?
This will match the buyer persona for your business. You want to attract an audience with your content who will ultimately become leads and then customers for your business.
Unless your content is clearly aimed at the audience you want to attract, you will attract people who won’t necessarily be interested in what you sell. This leads to much lower conversion rates from the traffic you do manage to attract.
It’s then easy to become disillusioned with content marketing. You believe the strategy itself is not delivering, when the real issue is either:
- Not defining your target market properly, or at all; and/or
- Not creating content that sufficiently matches the interests/desires/motivations of that target market.
So, it’s essential to clearly define your audience. We’ll visit creating buyer or marketing personas in a future post. For now, Kissmetrics have some useful info on doing this. They show how to create a buyer persona map like the following:
Go through the exercise, and summarize your buyer persona in 2-4 sentences on your Content Marketing Strategy document (get the template).
What Value Do You Provide?
Now that you have your audience clearly defined, what value can you provide that will attract their attention?
Successful content marketing hinges not on continually trying to promote your business through your content, but on providing value.
To really understand this mentality and how your business gains, Jay Baer’s book, Youtility is excellent.
Due to enormous shifts in technology and consumer behavior, customers want a new approach that cuts through the clutter: marketing that is truly, inherently useful.
Jay Baer, author of NY Times Bestseller, Youtility
Define the type of topics that will be most useful to your target audience. What questions are prospects and customers asking?
Consider the unique expertise that you and/or your team are able to provide. Do you need to bring new expertise in? What content resources do you already have that can be repurposed?
Think too about the message you want your business to present through your brand story. This isn’t just restricted to larger companies, but is relevant for smaller and medium-sized businesses too.
As I shared in the visual storytelling post, stories provide opportunities for your audience to connect with you, and make you more memorable.
For example, one key question is this:
Why do you exist?
The answer to this should inherently also answer why you are useful to your audience. Subtly work this message into the content you produce to remind them why they should stay connected to you.
The CMI suggest a further five key questions you need to ask to define your brand story and help connect you with your audience:
- What’s your history?
- Who are your main characters?
- What’s your corporate mission?
- How have you failed?
- Where are your gaps?
In your Content Marketing Strategy document (get the template), summarize the value you provide through your content in a couple of succinct sentences.
What Are Your Goals? (And Over What Timeframe?)
To use content marketing successfully, you need to know where you’re headed.
What are you wanting to achieve?
There are of course numerous hard-to-ignore benefits of content marketing, including the following:
- Increased inbound traffic
- More leads
- Increased engagement with your target market
- Link building
- Sales increases
- Conversion rate increases
- Thought leadership
- Brand awareness
- Joint venture opportunities
However, for your content marketing strategy, you need to define clearly measurable goals, along with a realistic timeframe in which to achieve them. That’s the only way you’re able to know whether either:
- Your content marketing activities are proving successful; or
- You need to recalibrate some elements of your strategy in order to better achieve the goals you have set.
For best effect, the goals you set within your content marketing strategy should follow the SMART principles:
It’s also going to be hard to focus your strategy and your content production if you have too many goals to try to serve at the same time.
Narrow down to two or three main goals you want to achieve over the next six to twelve months. Add them to your Content Marketing Strategy document (get the template) as clearly-defined bullet points.
How Will These Goals Be Achieved?
With your goals clearly defined, you can now formulate the meat of your content marketing strategy – how you’re actually going to achieve them.
It can help to review progress to date in order to see what’s working and what’s not.
For example, in running through this exercise myself, it forced me to analyse my stats. In doing so, I noticed organic search traffic for the past 12 months has risen 66% compared to the 12 months before that.
That’s a great result.
However, such a rise is never smooth. Here’s what that 24-month period actually looked like:
As you can see, it was a series of peaks and troughs, some more significant than others.
The biggest ‘peak’ at the nearly halfway point was very encouraging, with three months of solid traffic increases. I thought it would last forever.
But what goes up must come down.
There followed four months of similar, fairly sharp drops in traffic.
Particularly after the initial high point, I found it seriously demotivating. As a result I stopped producing content as often as I should have.
In fact, it’s worse. It’s hard to admit, but I stopped publishing anything on the blog completely for six whole months.
My mistake was that I’d bought into two illusions:
- First, that the initial few months of higher-than-normal traffic rises would simply continue.
- Second, that the drop in traffic that followed would also continue.
Instead, neither happened.
It’s hard to stay level-headed when you’re in the middle of a drop.
However, even with the six month hiatus, and even though I’ve yet to exceed the previous peak, the longer term traffic trend was up. A significant traffic rise was delivered overall.
The likelihood is, had I simply continued regularly publishing content, it would have been even higher.
This is exactly what your content marketing strategy helps with.
With organic search traffic, you can largely ignore the shorter term metrics. They are nearly always illusory. If you look at them week-on-week, the peaks and troughs are even worse and can again throw you off course if you buy into them:
Instead, stay focused on your content marketing strategy. Be highly disciplined in following through on it.
Content marketing is a long-term strategy. Your thinking needs to be long-term too.
Your content marketing strategy helps give you the patience to stay on course.
Look back at what’s been working for you over the past twelve months or more.
Use this analysis to help plan how to achieve your own goals.
With your target audience clearly defined, you can also use the opportunity to explore new ways to reach them and achieve the goals you have set.
- Should you be creating blog posts in the first instance? Or would it be more beneficial to perhaps start podcasting, and then base other content including blog posts on that material?
- How would video help you reach your goals? Could you run live webinars or sessions on Facebook Live to interact directly with your audience?
- Could you showcase client success stories and case studies?
- Could you focus on guest blogging for other popular blogs in your industry?
Make a list of 5-6 action points you will pursue to achieve your goals. Add to your Content Marketing Strategy document (get the template).
What Are Your Publication Channels for Content Delivery?
Note that this is likely to overlap with the previous section. You may have already assessed suitable publication channels to reach your audience and mentioned them above. This is simply where you more clearly define exactly which content channels you will be focusing on.
With content marketing, you are of course creating content that you want your target market to see.
So where are they?
If you solely publish on your blog, you’re only going to reach a small proportion of your target market who:
- Are actively searching for something your content covers
- Happen to click on your result in the SERPs.
Instead, you need your content to be where they are, in front of them.
This is where a content repurposing strategy is vital.
As I keep saying, it’s no longer enough to hope your audience finds your content in the one place you’ve published it.
Instead, it’s essential to publish it where they are, and in the format they want it.
So, make a list of places where your audience hang out and where you can reach them with content. Prioritise those that will likely have the biggest impact.
Add a sentence or two to your Content Marketing Strategy document (get the template) about the different publication channels you will be focusing on.
Here are some ideas to help get you started:
- Your blog
- Email – broadcasts, autoresponder follow-ups
- Guest blogging
- Quora – blogging and/or answering questions
- Social media – given your target audience, which channels should you focus on (see this post for information on the demographics of the main social media networks).
How Do You Measure Success?
You’ve already created well-defined, measurable goals. Now you’ll specify exactly how those goals are to be measured.
Sure, some of this might seem obvious. For example, if you had a traffic goal, you’ll likely use Google Analytics.
You should still write it down. It helps with the overall clarity of your content marketing strategy, and will help others on your team understand it.
It’s also where you can note down other resources you’re using to help you keep track of progress.
For example, with my own content marketing strategy, I’ve made note of the name of a spreadsheet I’m using to track traffic each quarter.
So to finish off your own strategy, add a couple of sentences on exactly how you’re going to measure your goals, so it’s clear how “success” will be defined.
How to Keep Your Content Marketing Strategy in Focus
Presuming you’ve now filled in the template based on the information above, you should have a well-defined content marketing strategy.
Not that difficult, was it?
The good news is that you’re now well ahead of the pack.
Having a documented content marketing strategy makes it far more likely you’ll be successful with your content marketing. You’re now in the top-third of content-creating businesses who have one.
However, don’t leave it there. It’s not enough to just have one. It must now be followed as religiously as possible.
Given the powerful results content marketing can deliver, the importance of the document shouldn’t be underestimated.
Make sure everyone who’s involved with the execution of your content marketing strategy has a copy. Keep referring back to it as relevant meetings are held and tasks are assigned.
For maximum impact, set a regular slot on your calendar to review the document. This should preferably be weekly, and with all relevant stakeholders and contributors involved.
Assess where you’re at in meeting the goals that have been set, and the actions that still need to be taken to meet them. This will keep everyone focused and accountable, and ensures everyone understands the importance of the strategy you have created.
As we’ve seen, a well-defined, written content marketing strategy is essential for achieving success in content marketing.
- You’re less likely to measure progress – because you have no real objectives to measure against
- You’re liable to jump around between different strategies without any real sense of direction or clear purpose
- The content you create may attract the wrong type of audience for your business, and make your content marketing significantly less effective.
Once you have a written content marketing strategy in place, all of this changes. You set yourself up for improved results, measurable progress, and increased authority and influence in your industry.
It shouldn’t take more than an hour to put together. But the difference it can make to your business is huge. So take the time to create one now if you haven’t already and keep it in continual focus.