Your content strategy is the foundation of your inbound sales, marketing and service operations. Discover exactly how to build an effective content strategy in eight simple steps.

Content marketing is about communicating with your prospects by providing useful and relevant material that attracts them to your site and converts them into customers you can really help. For this to work in 2019, you need a watertight content strategy. 

A mature content strategy can even support you with retaining your customers and growing their accounts (great if you've been wondering how to improve customer service and get more referrals).

This is why content lends itself so well to the inbound methodology: it's centred around your audience, what they value, and how you can help them to address whichever challenges or opportunities they're grappling with.

When you provide useful information through content, trust is built — which in turn informs your buyers' purchasing decisions.

Start creating content that actually delivers on its goals, month on month by  downloading 'The Beginner's Guide to Content Strategy and Implementation'.

Step One: What's your goal?


To put it another way, why are you setting up a content strategy? Starting with 'why' is important for so many reasons. It gives your campaign meaning. It provides vital context. Most obviously, it illuminates a goal towards which your strategy should be working.

How to decide on the right goal for your content

If you're embracing content for the first time and your budget is small, this might be as simple as ensuring content is delivered and published in a timely, consistent fashion.

As you roll out more and more campaigns and begin to get a feel for baseline stats, you might start setting SMART goals for you or your team to hit. (SMART goals being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.)

Either way, a goal is usually crucial for getting buy-in from the wider business and giving you something tangible to report on when you next stand up at that meeting.

Step Two: Define your positioning and messaging

 
If you don't want your content strategy – or the individual pieces of content that make it up — to look and sound like they could belong to any one of your hundreds (thousands?) of competitors, it's important they bear your stamp.

This doesn't just mean making sure the content meets your tone of voice guidelines (although that is important).

  • It means the subjects on which you're blogging or shooting videos reflect your particular service offerings
  • It means telling the stories that spring up around your business every single day
  • It means coming up with both a unique value proposition for your business and a 'big idea' for the campaign, both of which  you can run through every piece of collateral, explicitly stated or (more often) not

If this concept's a little alien to you, this article chats more about the importance of unique value propositions

Positioning and messaging example


We're an inbound marketing agency, yes, but
we're here to help you generate leads that close. It's the approach by which we deliver our services, it's an understanding baked into the business and our team from the ground up, and as a result, it's the tagline for our most successful piece of premium content ever. Leads that don't close are little use to anyone. In fact, they're a very real symptom of the breakdown between marketing and sales. From day one, BabelQuest has existed to help businesses bridge that misalignment and bring two traditionally disparate business units together — for the betterment of the whole business (never mind your bottom line).

This messaging gives our content an identity that's distinctly ours. Think about your own business in similar terms: what's your big idea? And can you summarise it in a sentence? 

Step Three: Get to know your target buyers


Your positioning and messaging is one core pillar supporting your soon-to-be content strategy. The other? The people you're trying to reach, of course.

Your target buyers will be interested in particular subjects. They'll browse similar groups of websites or hang out in appropriate social media channels. At a very granular level, they'll respond better to certain kinds of language and phrasing. You'll immediately be able to see how relevant all this becomes when you're creating a content strategy to attract, engage, or retain them.

Create a buyer persona for your target buyer

Understanding all this is one thing, but knowing the answers is another. There's no cheat sheet for your target buyers, but there are steps you can take — and questions you can ask — to create your own. We find all this information out in a buyer persona workshop, bringing together all of a client's key stakeholders to paint a picture and provide the data that gives us a clear idea of who we're trying to reach.

It isn't always easy, getting all these people together into one room and winning them over to the concept of buyer personas, but if you can get as close to this exercise as possible, your content strategy will benefit from it.

Need a hand? Download the persona profile checklist for a list of the core questions to ask when researching to create your customer personas. (No forms, no cost, just helpful advice you can save and share with your sales and marketing teams to better define your target buyers.)

Step Four: Build a process around how to generate content ideas


Equipped with an understanding of how your business communicates and how to reach your buyers, you can begin to think more tactically about the kinds of content you might need to be creating.

Building a process that involves the wider business (such as key salespeople or heads of departments) will enable you to come up with a predictable flow of original, high quality and relevant article titles or video subjects, including ones that you may not have thought of on your own.

But if you're a one-man band, a new business, or the rest of the company simply won't play ball (we've all been there), it's still possible to come up with content ideas on your own.

How to come up with content ideas on your own


Look at your buyer persona's reading habits. What content formats do they prefer? What style of content do they value — tactical ‘how to’ articles or more strategic, conceptual pieces? Technology like Buzzsumo can be used to find out which content types your personas engage with.

Review what your competitors are doing. If you share a similar target audience, check out what content they are producing and how well it is being engaged with.

Carry out SEO analysis and review. Undertake keyword research using Google Search Console to identify which queries users typed into Google to find your website. Google autocomplete also offers suggestions for queries as well as related searches, visible at the bottom of the search results page.

Look at what your existing customers and prospects are doing (and looking for). What are they engaging with over social media? What content have they engaged with you and reach out to them and ask what questions they had about. This is where integrated marketing tools such as sales and marketing platform HubSpot can prove invaluable, revealing objectively how your target buyers are moving around, and engaging with, the site. Survey or interview your customers and prospects to find out what content they would be interested in.

Generating content ideas with your team:


Tap into the knowledge of your sales team

Ask them what content they want — what would be helpful to include in sales emails or proposals? Ask them to share questions from prospects and customers, and schedule in a regular meeting with the sales team to surface new content ideas.

Tap into the knowledge and expertise in the rest of the business

When thinking about how to get content ideas from the rest of your business, anyone customer facing is a great source. They’ll be aware of issues your prospects have and what their frequently asked questions are. Run a content workshop to get content from the rest of your business. Involving all areas of your business will help inject life into your content and help you get more of the business involved in generating (and valuing) content.

Related read: 5 reasons why your content writer should be the first person you invite to your next event.
 

Step Five: Harness storytelling (yee-haw!)

how to build an effective content strategy and plan
We're still talking ideas generation here, but I feel strongly that the power of storytelling deserves a section of its own.

Stories excite us in ways that facts and statistics can't, and that's incredibly powerful, especially when you've got your content cap on. Think back to what your organisation stands for and what your brand story is, as well as your buyer personas. Do they like to feel connected, to feel like they belong, to feel stimulated, and to believe in values?

Then tell the stories that match what they're looking for — this will help you connect with your audience so that they can believe in and be stimulated by your content. This is about going customer-centric by aligning your business with your audience and rooting your content in reality.

New to storytelling? My beginner tips for telling a story that rocks:

1. Frame your story around the ‘why’

Everyone is battling for their voice to be heard. A 'why' or a 'motive' promotes authenticity, which in turn builds reader trust.

2. Ensure each story uses a ‘character’ and start the story with them

Keep your customer personas front of mind when deciding on a character to tell your story through. Your content should all be relevant to their needs, goals and challenges. Decide whether the content will be written in the first, second or third person. Once you’ve decided, this should be kept consistent.

  • First-person — ‘I think’ or ‘I thought’. This is helpful for building the author's authority and establishing a personal connection with the reader in blog articles and video marketing.
  • Second-person — ‘you think’ or ‘you thought’. Good for showing you really understand your buyer personas, and their pain points and goals.
  • Third-person — ‘he thinks’ or ‘he thought’. Depending on your buyer personas, they may relate best to third-person content. This can often be a good choice for case studies or more formal writing, for example.

3. Once you're clear on the character, look at the conflict

Consider what the character’s challenge is, how they overcame it, and the lessons learnt. The conflict is the problem you are going to solve and this should drive the overall story, how the characters react and how you inspire your audience to engage. It should fit with their challenges, needs and goals at the stage they are in the buyer's journey (awareness, consideration or decision).

4. Finally, look at the resolution

After conflict, your audience will naturally want resolution. A good closing paragraph provides context and an emotional element for the audience to relate to. What happens next? There should be a clear next step — a call to action for the audience to complete.

Other storytelling best practices to follow:

Use storytelling to create emotional appeal

Consider the emotional response you are trying to get from the reader. Why should they care, what is the difference between your story and someone else's?

Keep the story clear and concise

Cut through the fluff and don’t say in 20 words what could be said in two.

Read our article on the art of business storytelling for nine awesome tips from professional novelists, storytellers, and content pros. 

 

Step Six: Pulling together your plan

Content audit template

Complete a content audit

This will help you to identify assets you already have in your business and the gaps and opportunities for other content. If you have a lot of content, this will give you an opportunity to review what could be repurposed and updated.

You’re likely to find a goldmine of content if you speak to all departments and see what they already have. They may not be aware it is of value, but this is the most efficient place to start.

Record the content format, content title, stage in the buyer's journey, persona and notes such as: out of date, requires an edit, no changes required, etc.

Looking for a little more help in this area? Discover how to do a content audit for your business.

Creating your content plan


This is where the celebrated content calendar comes in. (If you've ever managed the implementation of a content strategy, you'll know what I mean when I say 'celebrated'.)

Your content calendar should clearly set out the consistent output of content to be produced and published month by month, but be aware that it may need to change from time to time with adjustments to personas, campaigns or timelines.

Focus the content plan around the needs of the whole business

It's important that the content plan focuses on more than the marketing goals. Content should support sales, customer services, and product and technical departments. It should be aligned to the goals of the business and to where it can make the biggest impact in terms of finding and keeping customers.

Your calendar should include the activity you will complete each month and, as a minimum, cover:

  • Your creation deadlines
  • Your publishing deadlines
  • Title
  • Keywords focus
  • Pillar topic / campaign focus
  • Buyer persona — who has the content been written for?
  • Content format — article, social, video, infographic
  • Any resources or interviewees you'll need to work with
  • The aim of the piece — what value should it deliver to the reader
  • The objective of the piece — distinct from the aim, this is what you want it to achieve (usually the download of a premium piece of content or enquiry, for example)
  • How is the content being distributed or promoted?
  • Any supporting notes

Content repurposing


Be efficient by repurposing existing content. This is a very effective and efficient way of producing new content. Start with content that has previously has attracted a good amount of traffic (and / or converts well) and either bring it up to date or recycle it into different formats.

Repurposing content can give you further opportunity to rank within search engines around your topic clusters and keywords. It can also help you to reach new audiences that are consuming content on other channels.

Tips on repurposing an existing piece of long-form content:

 

  • Use an existing piece of long-form content and recycle it into an article series

  • Make the content in the blog similar to what is offered in the long-form content, to help make the call-to-action more relevant

  • Use snippets of the long-form content in social media posts

  • Guest blog on other sites to attract new audiences

  • Promote the guide over email to your subscriber list

  • Repurpose the guide into other content formats such as slide-share deck, video, or infographics

  • Repurpose into a Medium and LinkedIn post

Content promotion


Many marketers end up spending more time creating content than actually promoting it, significantly inhibiting its ability to actually be seen by their target readers. We recommend you spend at least as long on promotion as you've spent creating your content in the first place. There's absolutely no point crossing your fingers and hoping the right people will see what you've written or filmed.

Have a clear organic content promotion plan

This plan could include:

  • Word of Mouth
  • Email
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Webinars and events
  • Influencers

Building relationships with experts in your field, and asking them for their thoughts on your soon-to-be-published article, can be a great way to increase the exposure your posts get as they are more likely to share it with their audiences.

Have a clear plan around how you will boost your content with paid content promotion

This plan could include:

  • PPC
  • Social Ads
  • Retargeting

Paid promotion can be a great way to target a specific audience, targeted and segmented with specific messages based on their industry, goals, challenges and or location. Read Izzy's great tips on promoting content to your prospects and how to extend this reach using amplification platforms.

Define your topic cluster(s)


Use topic clusters to structure how you connect your content together. This will help ensure that you are creating content that is found organically in search engines, and increase the amount of visitors you can attract to your content and website.

Learn how to create topic clusters to align your content with the latest shift in Google’s algorithms and create a content strategy that delivers on its goals.

Step Seven: Manage the content production process


Whether this is within your CMS (content management system) or in a document storage system (Google Drive, Dropbox), you’ll need a clear system to easily find and understand where and what your content is. If you don’t do this, future content audits and searches for repurposing material are going to prove time-consuming!

Have a clearly defined nomenclature process

This is essentially a system for how you document your content. For example, copy for a landing page could be LP_[Document Title]_[Persona]_[Buyers Journey Stage]_[Campaign].

This is one of the most important steps to take in order to ensure that you don’t create a tangled mess. Create a defined process and you’ll save heaps of time going forward.

Step Eight: defining effective content strategy through measurement and analysis


If you're spending time doing an activity that doesn’t generate results, you may question the value of doing it at all. You need to be looking at content format, channels and topics. Here are the key areas to focus on, but note that it’s important to work out what performance metrics are important for your business:

Track brand awareness

  • Social media followers
  • SEO page ranking
  • Inbound links
  • Brand mentions in the press, social or reviews online
  • Referral or direct traffic and how many search on your brand name in search engines

Track engagement

  • Social media shares, likes, comments, upvotes and retweets
  • Blog comments and shares
  • Email clicks and conversions

Track number of leads generated

  • Where they are in their buying decision — subscriber / lead / marketing qualified leads (MQL)
  • Have they been qualified into Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)
  • Ratio MQL to SQL
  • Lead source

Track customer conversion and sales

  • Track and calculate ROMI — cost of acquisition
  • Length of sales cycle from MQL versus subscriber
  • Ratio of leads to customers

Track customer loyalty and retention

  • Lifetime value of a customer (LTV)
  • LTV of sales-sourced lead versus marketing-sourced
  • How many times the customer buys from you
  • Whether they recommend you to others

Track website performance

  • Traffic such as unique visitors and page views
  • Top sources of traffic
  • Visits from organic traffic
  • Time-on-page
  • Bounce rate

Once you have all of this information, you will be able to make adjustments to your plan, focusing more on activity that is performing well and adjusting areas that are not doing so well.

Related read: 5 quick fixes for broken content

Top measurement tip: don’t chase all the numbers


Choose metrics that are meaningful to your business and will give you data that can help you achieve your marketing and business goals.

Creating an effective content strategy that drives repeatable, scalable business growth


A content strategy that delivers on its goals is crucial for getting to that lucrative first position in the search engine results pages and ultimately for growing your business, but we appreciate that it can be a daunting task to put together a comprehensive content plan for the next six to twelve months — never mind stick to it.

To help, we’ve recorded an in-depth webinar featuring a live run-through of the thought process we went through when building out our own content strategy. It features actionable takeaways (and a free template!) to help you build out your own content plan. To download the recording, click the image below.

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About the Author

Head of Content at BabelQuest responsible for steering and implementing the content roadmap. PhD Creative Writing at the University of Southampton and novelist with Sparkling Books.

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