content strategy

Content Strategy 101

More than just a buzzword today, the rise of content strategy marks a significant turning point in how brands and businesses engage with their consumers. The days of advertising, while not exactly numbered, are certainly on the down-and-out as customers look to entertaining and informative content whenever they interact with brand media. Sure, you can say how great your business is, but it may fall on deaf ears as people would rather hear about it from friends or Yelp reviews.

Content is King Today

Not to fear, you can still powerfully engage with your customer base. It’s just going to look a little different than it used to. Just think of your online and social media presence like hosting shoppers (“visitors”) in an open-market bazaar. But before someone even walks over, they are going to have to want to visit your stand in the first place, right? Why not give them a taste of something they want? After all, if they are out roaming the markets, they are definitely searching for something. While shouting at them about how wonderful your fruit stand is may have been an effective marketing strategy in the Mesopotamia days of yore, it just doesn’t work as well in today’s digital media universe. Enter: content.

The Copernican revolution in marketing today is to have useful “content” of some kind that grips your past and potential clients and makes them return to your site for more. When you are recognized as a source for such content, you are trusted for repeat visits and your product catalog is in the best possible position to be perused and purchased from. And in order to be noticed amidst the din of competing voices and brands, you’ve gotta have something alluring to draw in fresh visitors.

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Content Meets Strategy

But writing content is not as easy as setting up a blog and writing about anything that seems loosely related to your business. That may work well in the short term, but it needs to be in service of an overall strategy. You or your content strategist ought to be able to answer the following question for all of your decisions: Why are you doing what you’re doing? Or, in different words: what outcomes are you really seeking? This critical demand, you will have guessed by now, is a question of strategy. Yes, there are many wonderful tactics entailed in digital content (like SEO hacks and tools, for instance); but those tactical efforts need to be in support of an overall strategic vision for the “why’s” of your content.

Content strategy is thus about generating attributable client leads so that you are not shouting into the void, so to speak, on the web and in social media. And it goes beyond simple engagement, too. The point of content strategy is not merely to bump the number of page views and likes—although that is surely one important aspect of a good plan of attack. But for most businesses, you are ultimately after increasing your overall “conversion” rate: that is, the number of viewers who become customers or clients for your business. This is generally the end goal and “holy grail” of content production. So what’s the game plan for success?

The Simplified Model

Back in the day, when content strategy was crude and fledgeling, the idea was pretty simple: begin with a site audit that looks at all existing content; determine what problems or shortcomings exist; work in teams to fix those issues; verify the results; rinse and repeat. Now, to some extent, this model does capture the general arc of any strategic intervention. But it leaves a lot to be desired. If you want to go from shots in the dark to glorious thought leader and page-one ranker, your approach needs to be a hint more substantive.

The In-Depth Model

How far you go down the rabbit’s hole of strategy and SEO tactics really depends on the length and intensity of a given campaign or engagement. For this model or template, let’s assume you have a six-twelve month engagement window and are either starting from scratch, or you’ve got content and are willing to do a full revamp if necessary. Ok, ready?

Start with Your “Persona Profiles”

That’s right, it’s starts with the user search. (And I bet you thought I was gonna say something about a keywords list….we’ll get to that.) You should begin by constructing your “persona profiles.” That is, you are trying to get a sense of who the people are who engage with your content. You want to find out what their interests are and who among your profiles is most interested in buying. And yes, this is all an act of approximation and educated guessing at this point. That is fine, once we circle back to this step later, we will have an eagle’s eye vision of who our personas are. But it is important to start with a working hypothesis for the sake of structure, even if we are only reflecting our own imperfect understanding at the moment.

Construct Keyword or Category Lists

And now, yes, we will now create our keywords list. This list will serve two critical purposes: first, it will guide our ideation process and serve as a list of categories or topics we will want to produce content for. Secondly, our keywords will be critical leverage points for search engine optimization.

We will probably have multiple lists of keywords or categories. Hopefully they roughly fit with your persona profiles—that’s a good sign. And, if you’re really on your game, you will want to carefully parse the distinction between keywords and user intent: they are not always the same thing (this is where an analytical tool for semantic research comes in handy). For instance, you may be in the business of selling athletic footwear, but your customers will never type that into Google. They are searching instead for “running shoes” or the like. Remember, your number one goal should always be to address the user’s real search intent. This is the key for excellent content and for doing great on Google’s ranking index, not to mention getting your product to the people who want it.

Alright, now, what’s the next step? Oh yes:

Write, write, write!

Finally, it’s high time to produce content! Now that we have an idea of the kind of content that is likely to generate leads, we will also want to determine the form and style of content that best reaches our audience. To this end, you will want to determine which, if any, social media platforms are best. You will also want to consider media forms beyond text and images: think youtube videos or podcasts.

Next, you should consider modest experimentation with article length, style, and tone; the idea is to engage your audience best while staying true to brand. As you start to track and analyze, you will begin to hone your sense of what style and content are most engaging to your audience, and of how to increase your conversion rates. You can then develop a content topic and style guideline that reflects your findings. While not permanent (the world turns after all), they will give you a solid foundation you can tweak and evolve as needed.

Measure and Refine

From here, we analyze our results through time and revise our persona profiles (and thus keyword lists, content topics, and style) as need. For pretty much any business, the endpoint of content is driving the conversion rate higher. There are so many great analytical tools today to measure success with a great deal of precision. Which leads us to the great advantage of digital marketing over every other campaign: print, radio, TV, etc…

Content Strategy Allows You to Determine Attribution

For a long time, advertisers have been able to sell their work to other businesses on a kind of trust. There is a specific and quantifiable readership or viewership you know you’re advertising for; but the problem is you never get beyond rough assumptions about the effects. But with so many analytical tools available to online marketing campaigns, we can at last determine with a high degree of precision what is working and what is not. And that means businesses and strategists should be able to set specific goals and discover the efficacy of a particular campaign or engagement. Say goodbye to wasted marketing dollars…

One Final Thought

And lastly, when it comes to content strategy and digital marketing, it’s a game best played with the intermediate or long-term view in mind. Simple content creation and SEO work can certainly be leveraged for quick and easy impact in some cases. But carving out and streamlining your customer’s online experience takes time, analytical insight, and a little creative genius.

Clearly, this is a process, and we’ll explore it in more depth in our next post about mapping your customer’s journey.