How to Build an Effective Content Strategy in 10 Steps

Every organization or business should have a cohesive and well thought out content strategy. Even bloggers and social media gurus (basically anyone who publishes content online on a regular basis through any medium) should have one too.

A well thought out content strategy does much more than help you generate better content. It also helps you generate clearer business goals and allows you to work more efficiently toward achieving them. Think of your content strategy as the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of all the content in and for your organization. It is the blueprint for all the content in your organization and details how it will be generated and shared to accomplish your business goals.

Those who have a content strategy that’s written down are more likely to consider themselves effective at content marketing (source: Content Marketing Institute )

3 Things to Keep in Mind as You Create Your Content Strategy

  1. Your “why,” why you’re creating content in the first place and why it’s important for your organization, should always be at the center of your content strategy.
  2. A content strategy should constantly be updated, at least once a year. It should also be updated when the goals of your organization are updated, and whenever your organization encounters a new business challenge or undergoes a large change.
  3. Building and maintaining a content strategy is a collaborative process and should typically involve the following individuals as it’s being created:
  • Design and User Experience
  • Information Architecture
  • Copywriting
  • Development
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Marketing
  • Public Relations and Brand Building
  • Business stakeholders

Here’s how you can build an effective content strategy in ten steps.

Step 1- Conduct a Content Audit

Before you begin creating a content strategy for your future content, you should sort through and inventory all your existing content. Create a spreadsheet with the bolded category and subcategory labels listed below, and save your pieces of content in their respective folders with the same category and subcategory labels.

First, organize all your content into two main categories, “internal content” and “external content”. Your “internal content” will be all emails, human resource documents, manuals, employee handbooks, style guides, etc. Your internal content will consist of anything that’s intended for only members of your organization or individuals who work closely with your organization. “External content” will consist of marketing materials and emails, web copy, blog posts, landing pages, marketing emails, etc. Your external content is everything created for your customers and prospects.

Second, divide each of the main categories into two subcategories, “onsite” and “offsite” content. Onsite content will be any content that is linked to your organization’s website or was at one point (i.e. landing pages, web copy, product descriptions, blog posts, etc.). As you organize and inventory this content, make sure to include each URL it’s attached to on your site. Offsite content will be the content that was printed (i.e. brochures, handbooks, etc.) or isn’t linked directly to your organization’s site (i.e. marketing campaign emails).

As you sort through and organize your content, review each piece. On your spreadsheet, document the following for each piece of content in your inventory:

  • Tone
  • Voice
  • Style
  • Topic Category
  • Type of Content
  • Length
  • Date Published
  • Call-to-Action
  • Keywords and Phrases
  • Meta Descriptions
  • Markup
  • Images
  • Format
  • Medium (Where was it published or shared?)
  • Relevance (Is the content relevant to your brand, industry, or business goals?)
  • Traffic (How many people viewed it?)
  • Conversion Rates (How many people clicked on your call-to-action?)
  • Engagement Stats (What are the number of social shares, likes, and comments it received?)

After documenting this information on a spreadsheet, you’ll be able to see if there are gaps in the topics you write about, the frequency of when you share content, if your content has different styles, and more. This is a necessary step to take when creating your content strategy. It’s critical to ensure you have content that is consistent in voice, is shared in consistent frequencies and retains a consistent quality that will be associated with your brand. When you conduct your content audit, you’ll also be able to determine if you need to cover a more diverse array of topics across different mediums.

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Step 2- Make Your Business Case for Why You’re Creating Content

Once you conduct your content audit, you’ll have documented details for your existing content which will allow you to have a more efficient meeting with all individuals who will be involved in the development of your content strategy. You’ll be able to pinpoint where the gaps are in your content and how you want to address them. For instance, if you notice your blog visitors are consistently sharing your content on one social media platform but you’re always publishing it on another, you might conclude that you should begin sharing your content on the platform blog visitors frequent more often instead.

During this step, you’ll want to highlight tangible business reasons for developing content and the business goals it will help your organization achieve. Yes, there is often more than one business goal you want your content to help you achieve. For instance, if you want to increase your lead generation via your website by twenty percent in the next quarter, you can highlight what type of content will help you achieve that, and where and how often you should publish or share it. Then, you can determine how you will measure this success throughout the quarter to ensure you’re getting closer to your goal.

Be sure to include what your vision of success looks like in a trackable metric, otherwise maintaining a content strategy will seem burdensome rather than essential. Don’t just generically say you want more website visitors (don’t we all?!), but indicate a quantifiable number of visitors that is achievable, and indicate what type of content you will share or publish and where you will share it and how often, in order to achieve this metric.

You should also create a competitive analysis that includes the content strategies of your competitors so you can work toward differentiating your organization from theirs. You’ll also be able to determine what they’re doing that works, as well as what doesn’t.

Step 3- Identify Your Target Audience and Their Engagement Cycles

Your target audience will be your ideal prospects, readers, or potential buyers. Your target audience includes those individuals you want to engage with your content. They are also the ones who are most likely to engage with and share your content.

Conduct some research and figure out where your target audience hangs out online and what’s important to them so that you’re speaking their language in the right spaces. If you conducted a competitive analysis in step two above, then this will be a bit easier. A lot of times your competitors will know where to engage with your target audience already.

You can also use Google Analytics, Surveys, and Insights to build audience personas that encompass what your ideal readers are searching for and where they hang out online. A buyer or audience persona includes demographic information about your ideal reader or prospect (e.g. their age, education level, job, where they live, etc.), as well as their challenges and pain points, their attitudes and beliefs, what kind of content they engage with the most, and what motivates them to buy or subscribe.

Next, you’ll want to create a content map for the engagement cycles your target audience will go through. It will highlight what type of content you should be sharing with new leads versus leads who have already shown interest versus recent customers versus loyal customers, etc.

Each member of your target audience isn’t always at the same stage in their engagement cycles, so keep this in mind as you create your content strategy. Some readers will have only learned about your website, while others are ambassadors who share your content often and buy from you often.

Step 4- Determine What Type of Content You Want to Publish and Share

This step will be simple once you get to it because in the previous steps you already learned about the gaps in your existing content, so you know what you need to write about now and what types of content are missing from your inventory. And after you learn about your target audience and build their personas in step three, you’ll know what type of content they want to consume, how often they want to consume it, and where they want to encounter it.

During this step, it’s also critical that you have already clearly defined your business case for creating content (step two). Whether you create more blog posts, white papers, email campaigns, or internal documents that get team members on the same page, all depend on the information you uncover in steps two and three.

Step 5- Decide Where Your Content Will be Published or Shared

This step will also be simple once you know more about the business case attached to your content strategy (step two), and about your target audience (step three). You’ll want to publish your content where your target audience will encounter it online. And for the content hosted on your website, you’ll want to have a plan for attracting your audience to your site so that they can see it and engage with it there.

Consider what channels or mediums (i.e. email, social media, blogs, etc.) your target audience engages with the most. Remember that their engagement with your content is key. If you aren’t publishing or sharing your content where they are, they may never even see it let alone engage with it. This doesn’t just apply to external content either; it also applies to internal content. Be sure to share all internal documents on a shared cloud drive that all appropriate parties have access to, and ensure they know when you add or update something.

Step 6– Regulate How You’re Going to Organize, Track, and Analyze Your Content

After you figure out why you’re writing your content, who you’re writing it for, what you’ll be writing, and where you’re going to publish and share it, you’ll need to have a tracking system in place. You’ll want to track everything you possibly can about your content. Everything you document in your content audit will be what you want to track moving forward too (refer to the bulleted list in step one above).

You should always have a designated cloud based content management software (CMS) your organization uses to draft, edit, publish, organize, and archive its content. WordPress and Drupal are popular options but there are many others available. Pick the CMS that is ideal for the needs and structure of your organization. Then you can find web analytics integrations that will help you track how each piece of your content is performing. You’ll probably want to start with Google Analytics, Moz, or HubSpot.

Periodically, once a month or quarter (depending on the size of your organization), you’ll want to parse through the data you collect about how your content is performing. This will provide you with insights into what topics and types of content are engaged with the most, where your readers are coming from on the web and how they’re discovering your content, and so much more.

Step 7- Choose Who Will Create Your Content

After you’ve done your research and know how you’re going to keep your content organized and consistent, you’ll want to decide who will create your content. This is part of documenting your work flow for content creation for your organization. This could vary depending on what type of content you need to produce and what your resource bandwidth is. For instance, you might want to designate a person in the human resources department to compile your content for new hires, while you might want to outsource your content writing for marketing emails and blog posts to an experienced professional (especially if you only have a few people working for your organization).

Keep in mind that you’ll typically have two or more people creating content for your organization at any given time. That’s why having a documented content strategy they can all access is important. It will ensure they’re all on the same page with what your organization is trying to accomplish with its content.

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Step 8- Select Who Will Manage Your Content and Content Calendar

The second part of documenting the work flow for your content is determining who will manage, oversee, and carry out your content audits, periodic content analysis, and content calendar. If possible, this should be designated to one entity either internal or external to your organization. Whoever manages the content work flow and the content calendar will constantly be setting deadlines and ensuring that the business goals your organization agreed upon are being followed via the content your organization is generating, publishing, and sharing.

Step 9- Establish the Editorial Process Content Will go Through Before It’s Published

Once you know who is creating what types of content for your organization and who’s managing it all, create guidelines for the editorial process all your content will go through. Everything should go through two rounds of edits at minimum, and then be proofread and fact-checked before it’s published or shared. Identify who will be responsible for editing a piece of content. Then you will need to identify who will approve each piece of content before it’s published or shared, as well as who is responsible for publishing it.

You should also create a style guide or style sheet that establishes the tone, voice, style, format, length, and grammar rules you want your content to follow so that every piece of content is consistent across your organization, no matter who’s writing it. You should establish this with other seasoned writers, editors, and relevant parties within your organization so that it’s agreed upon and followed. You’ll also want to include any brand guidelines that your content needs to follow, such as logo dimensions, colors, and fonts.

Step 10 – Manage the Schedule and Frequency for Published and Shared Content

After you have decided who will manage your organization’s content calendar and work flow, it’s important that they manage the schedule in such a way that valuable content is being published and shared on a consistent basis.

Great content is always shared consistently.

When you research your target market and analyze the data behind how your current content is performing, you’ll see how often your audience or potential customers want to hear from you. Be sure to follow this. There is no “one size fits all” content strategy. Every organization is different. If you’re sharing content too often or not often enough, you could risk losing a lot of audience members or annoy people. And this will decrease your conversion rates, sales, and subscription rates.

Remember that creating content should involve teamwork, and different teams across your organization should have access to it and be involved in creating and or maintaining it. Creating an effective content strategy truly takes a village.

Also remember that you should document each step, write all the information down, and keep it organized. The only way your content strategy will be effective is if you document it, update it as often as needed, and keep its development collaborative.

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