Your Content Strategy Matters
Having a documented content marketing strategy impacts your content performance and ROI:
Just 37% of B2B content marketers (38% for B2C) have a documented content marketing strategy.
The majority of the most successful B2B content marketers, at 62% (59% for B2C), have a documented strategy.
Only 16% of the least successful B2B content marketers (18% for B2C) have a documented strategy.
What is Content Strategy?
Content strategy is the high-level planning, execution, promotion and on-going management of all brand media assets. Essentially, it’s your brand’s game plan for driving leads, and one of the most important components of your marketing strategy.
But it takes time and money to create great content. So whether you outsource blog posts or develop videos in-house, it’s critical to have a well-organized plan to get the outcomes you want.
Your strategy is a playbook that drives action and insight. And like a playbook, it covers a lot…
SET YOUR CONTENT MARKETING GOALS
Before you launch any new content marketing efforts, it’s important to establish clear business goals and KPIs. After all, without goals you can’t develop a strategy, measure program success or communicate ROI to company stakeholders.
Goals compel action and drive your content strategy, so build your goals around the outcomes you want to achieve.
Determine the right goals for your brand
Are you looking to drive rankings?
If so, to what extent?
Looking to drive traffic?
How much traffic?
Are you looking to reach a specific audience segment?
Which segment and how will you measure your reach?
Looking to drive conversions?
How will you measure conversions, how many do you need to see, and by when?
Looking to drive engagement?
What kind of engagement?
When setting goals, experts agree that you’ll achieve more by following a two-tier structure: stretch goals and S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Stretch Goals vs. S.M.A.R.T. Goals
- Stretch goals are aspirational. These are usually major quarterly or annual milestones designed to push your team to achieve more ambitious outcomes. For example: add two new categories of content to your blog strategy.
- S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-constrained (having a clear deadline). Consider these your process goals to ensure that you do the necessary tasks to achieve your stretch goals.
These two types of goals support each other and help to define your strategy. For example, imagine that your stretch goal is to increase organic search traffic from your content by 100% within a year. Here are a few S.M.A.R.T. goals that might support that initiative:
- Publish 25 blog posts each month
- Record a weekly podcast and accompanying SlideShare
- Engage with 100 third-party publications and influencers
As you can see, it would be hard to achieve a stretch goal without a structured digital marketing plan in place. Similarly, the S.M.A.R.T. goals would be random without the focus of a larger stretch goal.
DEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE & BUYER PERSONAS
With goals in place, it’s time to research your audience and create buyer personas. This step is critical if you hope to drive qualified traffic and conversions because a content strategy that targets the wrong audience wastes time and money.
Fortunately there are plenty of places to glean audience insights, including:
- Search data
- Social media data
- Email marketing data
- Google Analytics data
- Behavioral intelligence
- Survey data
- Analyst reports
- Customer interviews
- Interviews with salespeople
- Interviews with support teams
Use that data to define your target audience segments and then create marketing buyer persona examples within each segment.
While you develop your personas, think about your customers’ core problems as well as the outcomes they want to achieve. You’ll be much more successful if you align the right content with clear customer objectives.
But don’t just focus on solutions. If you find a gap in the market, why not produce content that entertains your audience? You may be able to cut through the noise with something that tugs at the heartstrings.
While building your personas, think about the core problems customers want to solve as well as the outcomes they’re looking to achieve.
MAP THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY THROUGHOUT THE FUNNEL
The Conversion Funnel
Once you define your audience segments and buyer personas, map the customer journey of each persona throughout the buyer’s funnel, including:
- What do potential customers do?
- Where do they go online?
- What information do they want?
- How is the content presented?
Additionally, what questions do they ask themselves when they search? Alfred L. Yarbus, a Russian psychologist, conducted a study on eye movements. Participants were asked to look at paintings. Yarbus asked a certain question, then he tracked the eye movements of each participant.
What he found was that participants looked at completely different parts of the painting depending on the question they were asked beforehand.
Essentially, our brains are hardwired to find solutions to specific questions we ask ourselves. So, it’s critical that you strive to answer your audience’s burning questions all the way through the conversion funnel.
Targeting stages of the funnel
For example, a blog post may target a generic head-term in your industry to capture those just beginning the buyer’s journey. The post may answer key questions and offer potential solutions. Or, it may be an entertaining or intriguing piece meant to expand reach and capture attention.
Another blog post may target the middle of the funnel when the prospect has done their initial research and begins to engage with various brands or vendors.
At this point, the prospect may want more detailed and customized content focused on specific products, services, solutions, features and benefits.
At the bottom of the funnel, prospects want to compare options and make a final decision. To turn their curiosity into a conversion, provide an ROI calculator, detailed case studies or offer a free trial or coupon.
For more about funnel stages, read our post about ToFU, MoFu, and BoFu.
EXECUTE A CONTENT AUDIT & GAP ANALYSIS
It isn’t enough to know who your business customers are, you must also do a competitive analysis. However, don’t just look at your direct competitors’ content strategy. Major e-commerce brands often lose traffic to review sites and industry blogs with a strong SEO strategy. So take note of all the websites vying for your customers’ attention within the Google SERPs.
Do your SERP competitors publish content that you ignore? What type of content does Google seem to favor? Which content drives the most social shares and engagement?
Now execute a content audit and scrutinize everything you’ve published. Do your blog posts perform better than your competitors? Make sure your content fulfills a role at each step of the buyer funnel. Note your strengths as well as any gaps.
Perhaps your current stockpile of content is too product-focused. As a result, you may be missing out on massive opportunities to drive brand awareness through top-of-the-funnel topics.
Finally, identify gaps in the market that nobody is filling. Google has several useful features to mine those insights, including People Also Ask, Related Searches and even Google Trends.
DO KEYWORD RESEARCH
Whether the goal of your content is B2B lead generation or to increase ecommerce sales, you need traffic. But you won’t attract thousands of visitors to your site with great content alone. If you don’t target any keywords, or if nobody searches for the terms you do target, then your blog will be a ghost town.
Keyword research is the foundation of an SEO-focused content strategy because it guides you to the most valuable topics and keeps you organized. With thorough keyword research, you’ll be able to cover topics thoroughly without writing the same blog post five times. That means more traffic, more engagement and more conversions.
and more conversions.
Where do you begin? Use tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush to uncover the topics in which your audience is most interested. You can also use SEO tools to spot your competitors’ top pages as well as the head terms and long-tail keywords driving most of their traffic.
BRAINSTORM NEW CONTENT IDEAS
Armed with a list of keywords you can finally begin to brainstorm new content ideas. But how do you create unique, usable content when there are already billions (trillions?) of web pages competing for attention?
Iterate and improve upon what already exists!
The truth is, the vast majority of indexed web pages are terrible. And that’s great news — as long as you’re willing to work hard to create amazing 10X content.
A key to producing excellent content that will cut through all the noise is to focus on a process of iterative ideation. As author Steven Johnson shows us in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, the best innovative ideas are typically iterative, take shape over periods of time, and often occur in the realm of the “adjacent possible” (relying directly on previous knowledge).
So, rather than spend time looking for the one thing that hasn’t been written, brainstorm new ways to approach an old dusty topic. Not sure where to begin? Tools like Buzzsumo can provide insight into engagement, while Ahrefs and SEMRush are excellent for shedding light on keyword rankings, backlinks and traffic.
After you identify the top performing content for each keyword, figure out how to knock it out of the park with something even better. Here are several ways to improve your existing content:
- Leverage proprietary data
- Visualize boring topics with graphics
- Simplify or break down a complex topic
- Combine related content into a comprehensive guide
- Use explainer videos within your copy
DETERMINE TYPES OF CONTENT & FORMATS
Make an effort to vary the types of media in your content strategy. Each demographic consumes content differently, so keep your buyer personas in mind while you brainstorm.
Even if your target audience is relatively the same demographic you should still mix things up. For example, some people are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others prefer to read text.
Consider using some of the following formats in your content strategy:
- Blog Post
- Case Study
- Topic Cluster
- Data Visualization
Although we don’t recommend using them all, you should develop a content creation framework with different learning types and scalability in mind.
For example, if you need to target multiple verticals, create a base piece of content that you can customize for each vertical. From there, you can shape it into everything from infographics to videos, podcasts, blog posts, social content, presentations, etc.
Think broadly in terms of repurposing content to maximize your marketing ROI.
THINK QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY
If you want to rank well then you must provide valuable content. That advice is straight from the horse’s mouth: Google. In fact, it’s the guiding principle behind most successful content strategies for several reasons:
- You won’t waste time and money writing thin content that nobody will engage with
- You’ll focus on actionable content around core topic clusters that drive traffic and leads
- People will see you as an industry expert which can earn media mentions and natural backlinks
But what is valuable, usable content? For you it could be unique market research, expert advice in a podcast, a listicle of resources, beautiful photos or even emotionally engaging content and videos.
The bottom line? Give your readers something they’ll love and share.
BUILD EXPERTISE, AUTHORITY & TRUST
Brand trust influences conversions, customer loyalty, SEO and more. That’s why it’s critical to build trust by showcasing your brand’s natural expertise throughout your content strategy.
For example, if your company sells photography supplies, you should stick to topics related to photography rather than optometry.
From a search perspective, however, there’s more to it.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of expertise, authority and trust (E-A-T), which is a set of principles foundational to Google search. E-A-T is not a direct ranking signal. However, many ranking factors within Google’s algorithm are meant to measure it in some way. Therefore, improving your expertise, authority and trust can indirectly benefit an enterprise SEO program. For example:
- People are more likely to link to content they trust. (Google has stated that links are the main way they measure trust, in fact.)
- Expert authors cover topics more thoroughly, which means they’re more likely to mention relevant topics and co-occurring keyword phrases.
- Google continues to improve its understanding of entities which helps them recognize well-known authors.
This becomes especially important as you create content for people who may not yet know about your brand or product.
Sometimes, your eyes can get big when you see the search volume behind a top-of-funnel query. A simple but effective gut-check: does it really make sense for my brand to talk about this? If it doesn’t, you’ll need to either find an angle that connects, or look for a different opportunity.
EVOKE AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
A smart content strategist understands that the most impactful content works on a subconscious level.
The human brain subconsciously processes 11 million bits of sensory information each second. Compare that to only 40 bits per second on a conscious level. In fact, Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman estimates that 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously.
So how do you tap into your customers’ subconscious mind?
The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who couldn’t feel emotions due to brain damage. Those individuals struggled to make decisions because they endlessly waffled between options. In other words, humans need emotions to take action because we base our decisions on feelings.
Emotions also prompt higher engagement. Jonah Berger, a Marketing Professor at the Wharton School, explained that people are more likely to share content that triggers an emotional response.
So emotional content draws in users, prompts action and encourages sharing. What’s more, all of those things are a recipe for earning natural backlinks that improve organic visibility.
A content calendar is much more than a simple schedule. It’s also an organizational structure that aligns your content team with your broader marketing tactics and goals.
An effective content calendar should tie each piece of media back to your S.M.A.R.T. goals so you can track performance. It also helps you prioritize items that are likely to have the greatest impact. Depending upon your organization’s goals, your calendar should include the following types of information:
- Target Audience Segment or Persona
- Content Format
- Draft Deadline
- Editing Deadline
- Design & Development Deadlines
- Publication Date
- Target SEO Keyword(s)
- Associated Keyword Query Volume
- Comments or Other Information
Ideally, your editorial calendar will be easily accessible online by your internal team, but make sure it’s password-protected. Keep it clean and skimmable so it’s easy to see what you published, what’s still in process, and what’s on the back burner.
For keyword-focused content, it’s also a good idea to note any search engine optimization scores from SEO tools such as Clearscope, Yoast or others.
Your content calendar keeps you organized and on track to hit your goals, so include as much information as necessary without going overboard.
Your content strategy doesn’t end when you hit “publish.” Think about it: You’ve invested tons of time and money to produce compelling content that you expect to deliver results. So don’t share it once and move on to the next project.
Instead, build amplification into your content plan. Share posts multiple times across several social platforms. Execute blogger outreach to online publishers, and even other businesses to promote your blog posts, graphics or videos. Don’t be afraid to run paid ads, either. Just make sure you understand the ROI before you dive in.
Amplification is the key to drive more website traffic. If you’re smart about content promotion and distribution you’ll see a compound effect from your marketing efforts. One publication may share it with its audience, who in turn then share it with their individual networks, etc.
MEASURE CONTENT SUCCESS
So you’ve mapped out your high-level content strategy, established goals, identified your audience, planned a pipeline, executed individual pieces, and promoted them to the right audience.
Now it’s time to measure success so you can iterate and improve. Your KPIs should define success in terms of your marketing objective. So, if you care about conversion rates, include them. Don’t make the mistake of reporting against dozens of metrics that don’t support your goals.
Here are a few KPIs to consider:
- Target keyword rankings
- Overall keyword growth
- Increased organic visibility percentage
- Traffic (organic, paid or referral)
- Engagement (Comments on your site, or social media engagement)
- Conversions (Contact forms, downloads, registrations, subscriptions, purchases, etc.)
Next, determine how you will capture, analyze and report against those metrics. For example, will you report performance against a baseline each month or against the previous month or previous year? Will you create a live dashboard or pull data from SEO tools like Google Analytics, STAT and SEMRush?
Finally, identify the individual(s) who will monitor and measure performance over time.
FUTURE OF CONTENT MARKETING
Consumers and individual B2B buyers are bombarded with so much content each day that they experience cognitive overload. As a result, people tend to filter out most of what they encounter.
What this means for your content marketing is that you need to up your game in order to get noticed and to get the click-throughs, engagement, shares and backlinks you desire.
It’s not just about a piece of content. Think experiences moving forward, and how those experiences fit into the purchase funnel and the broader customer journey. The brands that provide the best experiences will win in the long-term.