How to Create a Content Strategy? Core Pillars and Template
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The digital content strategy is essentially a blueprint that includes processes, standards and topics to help you plan, create and publish your content.
The content strategy is the foundation of reaching your business goals. It is a sort of magnetic compass that you have to craft on your own measure to show you the way to your objectives. And of course, we are all striving to find the best content strategy that works for our business.
“Strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions” says Henry Mintzberg
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter
It’s a guiding line that organizes the marketing teams involved in producing content: writers, editors, SEO specialists, designers, producers, project managers, analysts, etc., identifies the needed tools and channels, provides procedures and workflows. And aligns all the stakeholders involved towards the same goal.
Remember your digital content strategy line needs to be flexible and your team agile. In our ever-changing world, in happens quite often that the situation forecasted in January has nothing to do with the reality of May.
Useless to reinforce why you need a content strategy, it’s vital to have a path that leads you towards your goals.
If still in doubt, check on statistics, CoSchedule found out that a documented strategy is likely to improve your success with 313%. So, judge yourself!
When you need to arrive from point A to point B, you establish in advance a route. This is similar for your business, to achieve your goals you need a route, that’s the strategy.
A simplified content strategy template that will definitely help you in your endeavors of creating your strategy is to be found if you click the aforementioned link. Also, a content strategy example can be accessed based on my content strategy template.
Now, let’s start and identify the core pillars that are sustaining your website content strategy:
Effectively How to Create a Content Strategy?
Pillar 1: Results of Content Audit
If you are not starting from scratch, before committing to the creation of your digital content strategy for the next year, an audit and revision of the content you produced last year is compulsory.
· Inventorize your content. First you need a quantitative evaluation of the content you already have. Where is it published? How many pieces are published? In which format? Collect in an inventory list with data like: link, author, publishing date, last update, keywords, etc.
· Content audit. This is a qualitative evaluation of the content you listed in the content inventory list. Which is the quality level of this content? Does it meet your actual quality standards? Is it in line with your brand? Does it answer properly to your audience’s pain points? Which pieces of content generated the most traffic and why? Which is the bounce rate? Which is the dwell time? How are the social shares? Is the actual content converting according to targets? Search for explanations and answers to these questions.
· Identify content gap. Search for topics that are not covered by your content and they should be.
· Competitive analysis. Use the above procedure to inspect your competitors content marketing activity.
Pillar 2: Establish Your Core Content Marketing Goals
The fundament of your content strategy are the goals that you want to achieve through your marketing efforts. These business goals are general high-level statements that your marketing efforts will focus on and are established by the top management for the whole organisation. Such goals could be:
* Create brand awareness. If your company/business is new, your primary goal will be to create brand awareness, to reach as much as possible of your target audience
* Boost traffic for your site by x%. This could be accomplished through search engine optimization, via organic traffic, but it will take time to rank and till results will be visible. Or via paid traffic, which will bring results quicker but will require a higher budget.
* Increase conversions for your products and services by x%. You need to influence and convince a larger number of the visitors of your site to become customers and buy your products/services.
* Build a reputation of influencer/leader for your company. Your brand is much more than the effective products/services you sell. If you create high quality content, deliver great products/services that help your audience and exceed her expectations, in time you could build a solid reputation and confirm a status of leader/influencer in your industry.
From these overarching goals, the content marketing goals will be derived.
Business goals in general, content marketing goals included, need to have the following S.M.A.R.T. characteristics:
* Specific: Indicate exactly what you need to achieve.
* Measurable: Your goal should have a number, level that defines it.
* Attainable: Your goal should be feasible and realistic
* Relevant: Your goal should be significant for your activity
* Timely: Always define a deadline for your goal
Source: House of Hunt
SMART goals, could look like this:
Till [Date] the [company]’s team in charge with content marketing will achieve [number]/ [metric] [interval].
Till March 30, 2018 Eagle Advertising’s team in charge with content marketing will reach 10.000 monthly new visitors for our blog.
Pillar 3: Audience Research and Persona Development
Who are you trying to reach?
Your content is only as good as the leads and audience it attracts. You can draw thousands of views, but if only five of them are the right people who would use your product or services, it’s a waste of your team’s time.
Identifying who your content should be targeting will help your strategists to determine what types of topics, ideas, and keywords you should cover. Which are the pain points of your audience and what is she interested in reading.
What characteristics should you identify about your audience?
Demographics: Age, gender, ethnicity, income, location, job title, etc.
Psychographics: Hobbies, interests, beliefs, habits and more.
Challenges they face: What are they dealing with that would cause them to begin to search for your product or service?
Pain points: What in their life is causing a disruption or what problem does your product solve?
Where are they getting their information: If your audience is searching for a solution to their problems where are they turning to search for information?
What type of content do they prefer: What content format does your audience prefer to get the information they are looking for from?
How can we help: How can the content you create help, give your target audience the information they need?
You may have several buyer personas profiles, so adjust the template accordingly.
Your ideal – primary buyer persona/primary audience – the persons you should focus foremost, because they have the highest probability to buy your products or services. The content you create should be targeted mainly for the primary buyer persona.
Your secondary buyer personas. These are people that accomplish most of the characteristics of the ideal audience but are not quite ready to buy. You need to convince them, attract them to a sales funnel and convert them into customers. For these secondary buyer personas your content should be more strategic.
To find out these information about your buyer persona you may:
· Check your Google Analytics in the Audience section if your already have an established audience.
· Make a survey to find out. Tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms can help you in your efforts.
Pillar 4: Define the Content Pillars and the Subsequent Topics
This is the skeleton of your content creation. The content you create has to be related to the products and services you sell, and respond to the questions, needs, pain points and struggles of your audience related to them.
Let’s assume you have a SEO agency that provides SEO services for small and medium enterprises.
Your content pillars might include:
- On Page SEO
- Off Page SEO
- Increasing traffic from organic sources
- Ranking Algorithms for major search engines
Each pillar will have topics and types of content assigned.
For example, a pillar like “Off Page SEO” might include topics like:
- Backlinking Strategies
- How to successfully guest post
- Best practices to create an infographic
- Everything you need to know about Skyscraper strategy
Collaborate with your team to discover which of your client's questions need answer. Speak directly with your clients, survey them or visit forums and question and answers sites to find out.
Identify the type of content you will produce
Nowadays, you can choose from a variety of types of content to attract your audience.
Content marketing is an industry and goes far beyond the classical blog post, even if it is its foundation.
Among the types of content available you can pick:
* Articles and Blog Posts
* Social Media Content
* White Papers
* Case Studies
Pay attention your audience preferences and align the types of content you produce with their interests and needs. If your audience are teenagers between 15 and 21, you should choose video, if you target business professionals who prefer reading, ebooks might be the best choice or case studies.
Pillar 5: Create Design Standards
You need to create some design principles and standards to guide your designers while creating visuals for your brand. And your digital content strategy is the place where you define it. Check the content strategy template to see. They are needed to grasp the message of your brand and translate it into coherent visuals and imagery.
Include the basic design elements like:
* Selection of fonts to use.
* Brand colors combination.
* Logo related requirements.
List here all the elements related to visuals that the marketing team should be aware of. Like dimensions of headings, quality of images to use, dimensions, type of videos. Compulsory elements that should be present on each page, elements to totally exclude.
Consider using custom photos instead of stock to define your style. It will take efforts and time, but in the end it will worth.
Pillar 6: Identify the Channels to Promote Your Content
Deciding which are the channels that you are going to use to promote your content is a task of major importance.
Always take into consideration to be present when and where your audience hangs out.
The number one channel to consider is of course your own site, this is your main vehicle and the one of the few that you own.
The second one is your mailing list. It’s overly stated that the mailing list is the most valuable asset of a business in our ever-changing digital era. You own your mailing list and on it you have the most engaged persons with your business.
Social Media is a sum of channels where you have to be present and promote your content. Choose and focus only those social media networks where your ideal client is present. You will not be able to present on all social networks, or you can but that will require huge efforts and resources are almost never enough. You have to pick among: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit, Medium, Snapchat and more. So, pick wisely and based on analytics. I would suggest focusing on 2-3 maximum channels and on those to have a bold presence.
Other channels where you want to guest post. Create a list of influencers in your niche or complementary niches that are to be contacted in order to guest post on their sites.
If you want to be featured in major publications like: Forbes, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, Inc, Business Insider, Entrepreneur include that here. Your best bet for getting in touch with these influencers is with a personalized cold email.
Pillar 7: Content Execution Flow
After deciding what type of content you need to create, the next phase is the execution phase, literally create that content. The preparatory elements of creating content is designing the process of content creation: the steps that are to be covered, their order and their length in time.
The content creation process comprises all the phases till the piece of content passes to editors and designers.
The content execution process includes the creation and the editorial processes, explicitly indicates who does what, in which order and when. The persons included in this activity are: the content manager, the writers, the editors, the designers and SEO specialists.
The flow of the execution process includes all the tasks in chronological order.
In general, the content creation process includes:
· Brainstorming the topic – 2-3 days, eventually establish a meeting with the team at the beginning of each trimester and decide on the topics for the period
· Assigning the publishing date and filling the publishing calendar – 1 day
· Researching other resources on the topic – 1 day
· Organizing interviews (if the case) or gathering data – 3-7 days depending on type of piece of content
· Researching and establish the keywords to be used for this topic – 1 day
· Creating the structure of the piece of content – outline – 2 days
· Revising and approving the outline – 1 day
· Crafting the first draft of the piece of content – 2-3 days depending on the lengths, for 1000 words article 1-2 days, for 20000-word ebooks 3-4 weeks
· Revising the draft – 1-4 days depending on the type of piece
· Sending to editor – 1 day
Take into consideration the length of this process when deciding the date to start the writing process for each piece of content, in function of the publishing date.
After the content is created it passes through the editorial process. The editorial process organizes the steps of preparing your content for publishing, the publishing itself and the results analyze.
Here is an editorial process flow example:
Editing content – 1 - 4 days
Requesting revisions to be done by writers if the case – 1 - 2 days
Designing the piece of content – 1 - 5 days
Approving the design – 1 day
Send the piece of content to SEO specialist – 2 - 4 days
Publishing content – 1 day
Set promotion campaign – 2 - 4 days
Approve and execute promotion campaign – according to calendar and promotion strategy
Post publication analyze of results
Pillar 8: Editorial calendar
Your content execution process ends with the publication of the content your team created. These calendars are valuable tools as they allow you team to organize their tasks accordingly.
Calendars should include all the content types you plan to create and the following details:
· title of the article
· scheduled date of publication
· content pillar it belongs to
· funnel stage of the buyer journey – awareness stage or decision stage
· format of the piece of content – blog, infographic, ebook, etc.
· channels of distribution - where the piece of content will be promoted – social media channels, other sites, etc
Having a defined editorial calendar, you’ll always have ideas of content ready to be executed and in progress. The editorial calendar is one of the major parts of your website content strategy. And will be of major help to be consistent with your publishing schedule and respect it. Publishing consistently and regularly helps you gain authority and returning visitors to your site.
Pillar 9: Content Distribution Channels
Now, that you have crafted valuable content pieces and published them on your site, you have to promote the content created. You need obviously to bring your content in front of as many eyes as possible. We all have herd the dictum – spend 20% of your time creating your content and 80% promoting. So practically, your hard work starts after the content was created.
In this stage, you have to decide which promotion channel will you use and how often. It all depends on where your audience hangs out and at which times.
The first major channel is Social Media
These days you cannot afford to exclude social media from your content promotion strategy. So, taking into consideration the characteristics of your buyer personas, identify which social media networks fit them best.
For instance, if you target B2B established professionals, LinkedIn is the best option, if your buyer persona is young people under 30, Snapchat or Instagram are better options to consider. Consider using analytics for each social media network to find the insights that you need. Test each potential platform to see which bring in the best results. Most probably you will face a trial and error process till you find the right channels for your business.
Once the social media channels decided, the following step is to create a schedule to promote your content.
Each piece of content will religiously respect this schedule.
A promotion schedule on social media channels might look like:
Day of publish:
One Pin on Pinterest
One Facebook post
One Instagram post
One week after publishing:
One LinkedIn repost
Two Twits three days of the week
One Medium repost
One Pin daily on group boards
Following weeks till one month after publishing:
One LinkedIn repost after one month of publishing
Two Twits three days of the week, four weeks after publishing
One repost weekly on Facebook
One Pin daily for one month in group boards and own relevant boards
Another option for your social media promotion is to use paid advertising. These ads help ensure your content gets seen and setting them up is incredibly easy.
Promote on your email list
Your email list is your greatest asset, as you are its owner and you decide what you want to do with it and how to use it.
If you decide to use your mail list to promote your newly published content decide how many mails you are going to send and when.
Promote through tiers
One option is to use syndication sites to republish your content. These sites depend on niche. For marketing stuff Inbound.org or Business2Community.com are some great options.
Or you can tag influencers and experts that you quote or mention in your published content and maybe they will share it also.
Or you can network with other fellow bloggers or companies to promote your content to their mail list.
There were lots to do in the beginning and still remained a bit. Let’s continue, shall we…
Pillar 10: Measuring Results of Your Content Strategy
One of the major challenges of a marketer is to measure the success and results of the content created. Of course, lately the situation has improved dramatically, we have now analytics, but has bounce rate an impact of your content’s success, are page-views a huge indicator of success? Well, arguably.
Here are some metrics that you want to consider:
· pageviews. Many page-views translates that you managed to attract the right audience interested in your content and products or that visitors were searching for more information on a certain subject
· time on page. The longer the better. High dwelling time mean the content was considered useful by the readers if it was lengthy enough, for a short text might mean that it is difficult to consume, and readers spend much time depicting it.
· social shares. The more the better, as usual. Even if that will not necessarily translate into more business for you, it is certainly an indicator of success.
· bounce rate. A small bounce rate, well that’s another discussion: what do we consider a “small bounce rate”, means that the audience is interested in your content. And reverse a high bounce rate, means that the audience was not interested. Though, it is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of your content. If your content ended up in front of the wrong audience, that’s just to be expected. If I end up on a blog about food for cats and I am not a cat lover, my visit will be a bounce rate.
Experience with your own content will learn you and your team how to identify problems and how to solve them.
After deciding how your measurement process will look like and which indicators will be used, you should also decide on how often you will create the reports and establish some templates for these reports. It will be easier to draw conclusions if you use a uniform template for the reports that will ease the comparison of metrics.
There you have it, the 10 major pillars that sustain a powerful digital content strategy able to support your future growth and expansion.