Your firm’s content is an extension of your business development team. It speaks on your behalf. It communicates your awareness and deep understanding of the realities your prospects face each day. Your content will often be responsible for making the very first impression of your brand. Needless to say, it’s incredibly important that your messaging connects with your market in a way that reflects the true expertise and insight at your firm, and in a way that demonstrates real empathy for your prospects’ challenges.
Even if you understand the importance of content marketing in the digital marketing landscape today, you may be wondering how a firm like yours gets started with it. That’s where this comprehensive guide comes in. Here, we’ll share everything you need to know to get started creating and implementing a content strategy that will work for your firm.
Specifically, you’ll learn:
Chapter 1: Positioning’s Role in Your Content Plan
Chapter 2: Persona Development & Messaging Strategy Design
Chapter 3: Choosing Between Common Content Types
Chapter 4: SEO and Your Content Strategy
Chapter 5: How to Practically Manage Your Content Plan
Chapter 6: How to Measure the Success of a Content Strategy
Positioning’s Role in Your Content Plan
One of the more stark differentiators between firms who succeed at digital content marketing and those whose efforts fall flat is that of positioning. Before you begin to think about designing a messaging strategy to attract prospects to your business, you’ll have to first gain clarity on which prospects your business is best suited to serve. The detail in your positioning language is critical. The more specifically you can articulate what you do and for whom you do it, the better positioned you are to convincingly and authoritatively educate your market in a way that builds credibility, trust, and ultimately a desire to work with you.
This exercise requires bravery. Too often, businesses become enamored with the challenge of coming up with new words to describe an old positioning that every other firm is trying to own. But the purpose of positioning isn’t to create a new container into which every prospect could self-select. It’s the opposite. A good positioning statement differentiates you in a way that makes it easy for wrong-fit prospects to quickly move on without wasting your time. If you’re committed to getting positioning right, you’ve accepted, even embraced, the reality that you’re not equipped to work for everyone.
How Positioning Affects a Messaging Strategy
The strength of your positioning statement is directly tied to the strength of your messaging strategy. Well-positioned firms tend to be smarter about their areas of expertise. They’ve enjoyed the benefits of repeated exposure to similar business challenges across many clients. This makes them uniquely suited to diagnosis and solve problems that other, less specialized firms would never notice in the first place. This level of detailed insight into the realities their prospects face has a dramatic effect on the messaging strategy these firms are able to design. Their writing is more empathetic, more knowledgeable, more relatable, and more detailed. These firms don’t waste time writing in sweeping generalities because they know their insight is only applicable to a small subset of prospects who might discover their writing online. And they’re happy to be of use to those select few.
Many businesses are afraid of specializing out of a fear of missing out on interesting work. The ripple effects of that business decision almost certainly extend to their content strategy. An all too common scenario is the firm that creatively concocts fresh language to describe a wide range of services they offer to a broad market. And because they’re eager to take on new kinds of work at any moment, they’ve handicapped their ability to become true experts in any single subject. They are energized and motivated by the variety of their work, but they cannot truly claim real competency in any of their claimed areas of specialization.
The content marketing strategy inevitably uncovers this secret. Expertise is hard to fake. (It’s hard to fake it well, anyway). It’s nearly impossible to regularly publish in depth education about a subject in which one has very few experiences. It requires an extraordinary amount of preparation and research in order to create a convincingly expert piece of content in this situation.
This is why many businesses fail at content marketing, often claiming they just don’t have the time to write. This is a fallacy. True experts can absolutely make the time to write. They may need guidance creating a system to do so more efficiently (for more on that, jump to Chapter 5), but they’ve got no shortage of relevant topics and insight to support a content marketing strategy.
We can contrast these businesses with unspecialized firms, who really do struggle to make the time. But their challenge is far greater than finding an hour to write about their point of view. They’ve got to find the time to go get a point of view in the first place. As a result, these firms will often painstakingly spend close to 10x the amount of time of a well positioned expert developing mediocre content to support their content strategy. The messaging is mediocre because it’s not informed by deep experience on the subject matter, forcing the writer to research the topic at length before writing on it or to stumble through writing surface level information because they simply lack the insight to go deeper. Not surprisingly, this content rarely yields results and the effort is pretty quickly abandoned.
I know I paint a grim picture, but it’s important that I’m frank at the outset here. Digital content marketing is not worth your time if you’re unwilling to position your firm. It typically leads to generalist content that’s unlikely to communicate a unique and useful perspective to your reader. Very rarely will this shallow content yield the kind of results you’re seeking when investing in content marketing. Before you invest too much time in developing a digital content marketing strategy, I’d recommend you first take the time to evaluate your firm’s positioning. And if you need help writing an effective positioning statement, these tools can help.
Persona Development & Messaging Strategy Design
Developing your ideal persona set is really just an extension of the positioning refinement process outlined in Chapter 1. A strong content strategy is intentional about the individuals it is trying to target. Good content demonstrates you’ve put some thought into the needs of the reader. The more you demonstrate your understanding of your prospects’ reality, the faster you’ll build trust with that person and the quicker they’ll come to see you as an indispensable resource.
A lot of firms say they’ve created personas for their business. You might think you’ve completed this exercise, too. But the key to doing this well is articulating your personas in a way that meaningfully informs your messaging strategy.
Let me explain.
The point of creating an audience persona is to document and articulate the most important interests, business challenges, questions, and complexities your prospects face as they progress through different stages of their buying cycle. These things change the closer the person comes to making a purchasing decision. An early stage prospect is most focused on getting smarter about a pressing challenge or a new trend in their industry. They might be asking Google questions like “How Do I Create a Digital Content Marketing Strategy,” for example. Later, when this person is seriously considering partnering with a business to help create and manage their content strategy, they might be looking for information like “Should I Outsource my Content Writing” or they might simply Google “Content Marketing Consultancy.”
Your messaging strategy should intentionally target phrases and keywords associated with the interests of your buyers in both the early and late stages of the buying cycle. A good persona development exercise allows you to bring those subjects to the surface so you can build your topic library around them.
All too often, I encounter firms who’ve completed “persona development”, but they’re left with nothing more than a hypothetical narrative about demographic and psychographic information about their buyers. That typically reads something like this:
Marketing Director Mary has about 10 years professional experience after receiving her bachelor’s degree in Marketing & Communications. She’s married and spends her weekends taking long runs, hanging out with her friends, and walking her dog. At work, Mary manages the company’s marketing campaigns and reports to the CMO quarterly on success metrics. One day, Mary hopes to be promoted to VP of Marketing at her current company or at a similar organization.
Describing a target persona this way might help create a character to hold in your mind’s eye as you’re writing, but it does little to inform what that content should be about. In this example, there’s a lot more you’d need to know about Mary in order to build a topic library full of subjects that are likely to interest her. (If you’re curious about the questions you should be asking your prospects in order to build a better messaging strategy, check out this article and tipsheet.)
Asking smart questions in order to better understand the nuances of your prospect’s purchasing journeys is the key to a successful content marketing messaging strategy. The interests and challenges of your prospects evolve as they get closer and closer to making a decision to hire a firm like yours. A good content marketer considers how to frame their expertise in a way that can apply to someone in an early stage of the buying cycle (what we call a “researcher”) and someone in a later stage of the buying cycle (what we call an “evaluator).
Using the Buy Cycle to Inform Your Topic Library
Everyone talks about empathy with regard to content marketing these days. They’ll tell you that you’ve got to empathize with your prospect and write your content in a way that prioritizes their business challenge over your own. The truth is that advice is a lot easier to give than to enact. As a marketer, you of course understand that your content is most likely to resonate with your reader if it’s focused on what they care about as opposed to what you want to market or sell.
That’s pretty basic stuff, right?
It is, but most firms still get this wrong. They begin an article with the best of intentions but somehow, by the conclusion, they’ve waxed poetic about the firms’ services or experience or portfolio and have spent very little time tying those things back to a reality the reader is facing in their business. Without a bridge to connect what the firm wrote to the business challenge of the reader, the prospect gets bored and moves on.
Understanding your prospects’ buying cycle is the key to writing content that attracts more organic traffic and fosters more engagement once readers arrive to that page on your website. A firm command of how your prospects operate inside of each stage of the buying cycle will help you develop a topic library that’s focused solely on their most pressing questions as they work to get smarter about the problems they face in their business every day. It’ll also help you more tactfully develop content that’s specific to how your firm might help these readers solve their challenges when the time is right. Pushing your services too soon will erode trust with a researcher, who is primarily seeking education about a problem they want to solve on their own (for now). They’ve not yet decided they’re going to hire a firm like yours to assist them. Allow yourself to be the generous educator they need today so when they’re ready to hire tomorrow, you come to mind as an expert they already know and trust.
Conversely, failure to talk about your firm’s expertise when the time is right will lose the interest of an evaluator, who has progressed to the point at which they know they need to hire a firm like yours to solve their challenge. In addition to seeking education about the subject at hand, they’re also very keen to learn how your firm would specifically go about solving that challenge.
Tailoring your content marketing strategy to be balanced between topics best suited for researchers and those for evaluators is one of the most important aspects of a successful content marketing messaging strategy. Every piece of content you write should be geared toward one of these two stages and your topics should be thoughtfully selected within this context.
Using Personas to Design a Messaging Strategy
One of the most common flaws I observe in many content marketing plans is a lack of focus in the messaging strategy. Topics will rarely speak to the firm’s positioning or the common questions professionals inside of the market focus ask themselves every day. Sometimes this mistake is a byproduct of a firm’s unwillingness to position in the first place, so they’ve got little perspective on the subjects that matter most to any one market to begin with. But even well-positioned firms fall prey to a generalist or navel-gazing messaging strategy, and it’s because their personas aren’t defined in a detailed enough way to effectively inform their topics for their content plan.
Good persona development leads to good messaging strategy design. The two are completely connected. The more detail you can document about your prospects’ business challenges, their professional values, the ways they measure success, the ways they travel through the researcher and evaluator stages of the buying cycle, etc…, the more power you have to design a messaging strategy that’ll speak to those realities.
Your readers need to feel understood. They need to believe you’ve prioritized the job of educating them above the job of marketing your firm. An effective messaging strategy will thoughtfully consider the broad categories of interest of your prospects that also align with your business’s areas of expertise (we call these Messaging Areas of Focus), and will only write on subjects that fall squarely within that intersection.
An example is this content you’re reading on Newfangled’s site right now. This content, which falls within a message area of focus we call “Content Strategy,” is a detailed guide for how to create a digital content strategy. We have many articles on our site that fall into the message area of focus “Content Strategy” because we know our readers have a lot of questions about the subject and it also happens to be an area of expertise (and a service offering) of Newfangled’s. But the objective of this content is first and foremost to educate the reader – you – about how to think about creating a content strategy for your business. We know this is a question many of our would-be prospects ask themselves every day, making this a subject worthy of our content development investment.
We can contrast this with an example of a topic that wouldn’t be as effective at lead nurturing. For example, Newfangled is preparing to move office locations in a few weeks (from Chapel Hill, NC to Durham, NC). It’s a pretty big deal within our four walls and we’re all thinking about it a lot.
Now, we could, in the name of making our culture more accessible to our readers, publish a post about the upcoming move, the reasons behind it, and how we think it’ll positively affect our colleagues and clients alike. Maybe some of our existing clients or potential recruits might enjoy that content.
But that’s not why Newfangled got into content marketing. And while content highlighting our culture might be interesting to a small slice of the traffic that shows up to our site, our primary objective is to attract marketers who need to learn how to be better at their jobs in order to grow their businesses. And our own persona research tells us that our prospects care a whole lot more about subjects related to things like content strategy than they do about where our business is located. In our own content plan, “Culture” didn’t make the cut as a message area of focus because we know it doesn’t align both with prospect interests/challenges and where we as a firm provide the most value and have the most expertise.
As you’re likely noticing, all of this comes back to knowing your persona. Write about what they care about and do it in a way that aligns with where your business provides value and expertise, and your content is a lot more likely to resonate and inspire engagement on your website.
Choosing Between Common Content Types
One of the most important content planning decisions you’ll make is which types of content comprise your editorial plan. The content marketing world has become quite complex in this regard. Far gone are the days when content marketing meant publishing a 500-word blog to your website one time per month (remember when that was the hardest marketing objective you were trying to meet)?
Today, marketers have far more choices when it comes to their content portfolio: long form blogs, blog series, white papers, webinars, e-books, content upgrades, worksheets, toolkits, research reports, infographics, videos, podcasts… the list goes on and on.
We’ll explore the SEO implications of many of these content types in Chapter 4, but let’s first define them in more detail and position them in the greater context of your content plan.
Blog Posts Role in Your Content Strategy
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably familiar with the concept of a blog post. We define it as a primarily text-based piece of content that’s accessible by search engines (meaning the content isn’t protected by a form on the website) and varies in length. For a long time, blogging was essentially the definition of content marketing. It was and remains the primary tool you can use to increase organic traffic to your website, and that’s certainly a big objective of most content marketing plans today. But the blogging landscape has changed over the years and to do it well, you’ll need to be aware of three common blog types.
Long Form Blog Posts
Long form blog posts are one of the best ways to drive organic traffic to your site. They are intended to respond to Google’s continued efforts to connect its users with the most relevant, thorough information on the web about their search queries. What that’s meant for marketers these days is your blog posts need to be longer than they may have been in the past. Much longer.
The ideal long form blog post begins at 1,200 words and often exceeds 1,500 words. It is not written with a single, specific keyword in mind, per se, but rather it’s optimized in such a way that Google can clearly determine whether you’re an authority on the topic of the blog and other keywords/search phrases related to it. The best way for Google to figure that out is for you to write more deeply about what you know. To gain credibility in Google’s eyes today, 500-word posts just won’t cut it.
Another approach to blogging today is the blog series. These pages on your site are more focused on improving organic referral traffic for a specific keyword or phrase by showing Google that you write about it frequently and specifically. While you might only publish one or two long form blog posts to your website about a topic, a blog series will have 3+ parts to it and the titles are all framed the same way:
“Specific Keyword: A longer description of your blog post goes here”
With this format, the “specific keyword” is the same keyword for all parts of the series. The longer description is varied.
Framing the title this way gives a very clear indication to Google that you’ve written about a specific keyword multiple times and can therefore be considered an authority on it. Because of this repeated application of the keyword in your titles, you can also allow these blog posts to be a little less verbose than your long form blog posts. Sticking in the neighborhood of 750 – 1,000 words for these types of posts works well.
Video blogs function a lot like standard blog posts in your content plan. The big difference is that the primary medium is video with some kind of supporting text on the page to help you harvest SEO equity from the effort. Video blogs can be formatted in a few ways, but often the simplest is a single, stationary camera focused on one or two people discussing the blog topic for a few minutes. Anywhere between 3 – 7 minutes is ideal for capturing and keeping a viewer’s attention.
As of the publication of this article, search engines cannot yet watch a video and understand what it’s about; they still need text to index. So it’s important that you’re thoughtful about how to capture some SEO benefit from your video blog by making use of the transcript of the audio. You can do this in many ways, but a few of the most common include:
- Publish the transcript, verbatim, below the embedded video on your website
- Include salient points or key quotes in a bulleted or numbered list below the embedded video on your website.
- Use the transcript as fodder to write an accompanying article for the video post.
Option 3 is often most successful at driving organic traffic, which isn’t surprising since it requires you to create a thoughtful, cogent article from the transcript. Some content teams divide this workload among themselves. They might, for instance, have a few people who are more comfortable talking about their expertise than writing about it. Those folks will be assigned all of the video blogs. Other team members who are more inclined to write will then use the transcripts to put together a well written article to include alongside the video on the site, thus increasing that page’s likelihood of attracting organic traffic.
If you’re curious about producing video blogs, you can learn more about that process here.
Incorporating Gated Content Into Your Editorial Plan
While getting your blogging strategy right is critical to your website’s SEO goals, these post types aren’t enough to comprise a fully successful content strategy. While blogs are great at attracting new visitors to your website, they do little to engage that traffic through conversions (form submissions) on your website. That’s because that content is open to Google for indexing and therefore accessible to the public at large. Anyone can read your blogs without submitting a form on the site, which makes it difficult to use blogs as a lead generation tool.
The best content plans balance the blogging strategy with a gated content strategy in order to produce conversions from the increased traffic driven to their site from the blogs.
So which gated content types are the best to include in your plan, and why? Below we’ll explore the definitions of a few of the most common gated content types and the situations in which you might use them.
A white paper is similar to a blog post in that it’s a primarily text-based piece of content. The primary differences include:
- White papers tend to address topics that are more expansive than blog topics. A white paper can be viewed as your comprehensive thoughts on a subject that’s likely to be relevant to most prospects who visit your website. A blog post might address one very specific interest or pain point of one of your audiences, but a good white paper will explore the nuances of a subject that’s on the mind of pretty much anyone you might work with. That typically means they end up being more verbose than a typical blog post, although that’s not necessarily a defining characteristic of white papers. They do not have to be longer than blogs, that just often ends up being the case.
- Most of the content included in your white paper will be protected by a form on your website. That means the reader will have to submit that form before they can read the full content. The content isn’t just inaccessible to users who haven’t submitted the form; it’s also inaccessible to Google when crawling your site. For this reason, white papers are not great at driving new visitors to your site through organic search.
Each individual white paper has its own form on your website, making them great lead generation tools. Every time you publish a white paper to your site, you’re adding a new conversion point for potential prospects.
Writing your first white paper can be a daunting task at first, but like any habit, it’s harder to build than to sustain. If you’re preparing to write your first white paper, you can learn which pitfalls to avoid here.
Webinars can also be great lead generation tools. A webinar is typically a live presentation that users register for in advance, though they can also be pre-recorded and simply made available for download on your website. Similar to a white paper, webinar topics tend to be applicable to a large cross-section of the visitors to your site.
For content teams who find themselves averse to writing, webinars are attractive alternatives. The presentation style of this content is great for those who prefer talking about their expertise to writing about it. Webinars are a lot like a public speaking engagement, but performed from the convenience of your office computer instead of a stage. While most businesses would choose to gate the webinar behind a form, making it a very good tool for generating new leads, it’s wise to make use of the transcript of the audio from the presentation in order to capture SEO equity from the asset as well.
Similar to a video blog, a webinar’s transcript can be leveraged in an effort to rank organically for the content that’s discussed. And just like with a video blog, a few options for doing that include:
- Publish the transcript in full
- Publish the most thoughtful, salient points made during the presentation as “key quotes”
- Use the transcript as fodder to write an accompanying article on the webinar page
Many content teams find producing webinars intimidating at the outset but come to include them as a regular staple of their content plan. For more details on how to produce your first webinar, click here.
Content Upgrades: Toolkits, Checklists, Worksheets, and Beyond
While white papers and webinars are among the most common gated content assets you’ll find, they do have their disadvantages. Both ask for a pretty big investment of time on behalf of the reader/attendee. Most white papers aren’t quick reads; most webinars are a 45-minute+ time commitment. It’s possible to gain some traction on these assets with a new audience that is relatively unfamiliar with your brand, but they perform best with leads who’ve engaged with your brand before and with whom you’ve established some amount of credibility and trust.
For those businesses employing gated content on their websites for the first time, content upgrades tend to be a better place to start. They take less time to produce and typically see much higher conversion rates than white papers and webinars.
A content upgrade is a gated asset that’s created for the sole purpose of increasing the value of a blog page on your website. Unlike white papers and webinars, the topics for your content upgrades are quite specific to whatever the blog topic on that specific page is about. They have a higher conversion rate because they’re only promoted to users via a blog detail page. Because those users who are reading the blog post have already demonstrated an interest in that subject, they’re nearly guaranteed to have an interest in the related gated asset as well.
We can contrast this with white papers and webinars, which are typically promoted in highly prominent locations across your entire website (like the home page or in the sidebar of all of your thought leadership pages). Because they’re promoted to so many more people who may or may not have an interest in the topic, and because they require more time for the user to consume the content, white papers and webinars tend to have a lower conversion rate than content upgrades.
Content upgrades come in many formats. Interested in learning more about content upgrades? You’ll probably enjoy our podcast episode about it.
SEO and Your Content Strategy
As every experienced content marketing professional understands, SEO is a critical factor that influences the success of the content published to your website.
Optimizing your content so it’s discoverable online is a complex process. The rules of ranking highly on search results pages continue to evolve with the way users search for information on the internet. Today, there is less emphasis placed on ranking for specific keywords and more importance placed on demonstrating your indisputable authority on topic clusters, or the overarching subject to which your target keyword is related. Convincing Google of your expertise related to a topic cluster means that publishing a short blog post every once in a while, even if well optimized for search engines, just won’t cut it.
Instead, it’s important to write frequently and thoroughly about the subjects most relevant to your expertise. And rather than targeting a single keyword, you’ll want to identify groupings of keywords and phrases that relate to your area of expertise and incorporate them regularly into your content.
How to Build a Keyword List
Identifying the right list of keywords is an important first step toward making sure your content not only resonates with your ideal prospects but also ranks with Google. Remember to prioritize keywords and phrases closely related to the business challenges experienced by your prospects, not just keywords associated with your business type.
To identify the right groupings of keywords for your business, follow these steps:
- Learn what’s driving organic traffic to your site today. Use a tool like SEMrush to audit the keywords currently driving organic traffic to your website today. What is the search volume of these keywords? How much traffic do these keywords send to your site each month? Which pages on your site receive this traffic? How many of these keywords are non-branded (meaning they don’t mention your business, portfolio, awards, employees, etc…)? Are these keywords relevant to your positioning today?
- Create your keyword wishlist. If you controlled Google’s first page of search results today, for which keywords would you hope to rank? Compile a list of those keywords and use a tool like SEMrush or Ubersuggest to research the search volume of those keywords. This exercise might surprise you. Your goal is to confirm there’s an adequate monthly search volume for the terms for which you wish to rank. There is no point in investing time trying to rank for a term that will not send any traffic to your site because no one is searching for it in the first place. At the very least, try to prioritize keywords and phrases with 10+ searches per month; upwards of 100-150 is even better.
- Create a list of related search terms. After you’ve narrowed your initial keyword list to those phrases related to the business challenges of your prospects that also have enough search volume, it’s time to broaden the list to include related terms and phrases. The keyword research tools listed above have “keyword idea” or “related keyword” functionality that will help you with this exercise. You can also use Google’s keyword planner to identify related keywords to your primary list. A more manual process that works well is typing your keyword into Google and reviewing the suggested auto-completed terms Google offers.
- Incorporate your keywords into content and metadata. Now that you have your keyword list, you can start to incorporate it in an organic way into the content you’re producing each month. Try not to be too formulaic about including keywords in your content. It’s important that they are throughout your copy, but you don’t want to run the risk of packing your content so full of keywords that you lose your voice. A good place to prioritize the placement of keywords is in the subheadings in your articles. Those should always be keyword-rich and less editorial in nature. Also, make sure to be intentional about the metadata on every piece of content you publish. Your H1 tag, SEO title, URL and meta description are excellent places to include different versions of your target keyword for the post.
Track Your SEO Progress
Once you integrate a more intentional keyword strategy into your content plan, it is important to track your progress over time. This will provide insight into how your prospects search for information online and can ultimately influence changes you make to your messaging strategy over time.
Each month, track your website’s progress against each keyword listed in your keyword wishlist. How many of the terms are you ranking for? Where is your position on Google? How much traffic is that keyword driving to your website? And on which areas of your site is that traffic landing?
Taking time to ask and document the answers to these questions each month, quarter, and year will give you clear insight into how effectively you’re integrating keywords into the thought leadership content on your website.
How to Practically Manage Your Content Plan
While the strategic underpinning of your content strategy – things like your positioning, personas, messaging strategy, and content portfolio choices – are vital to its success, it is equally important to understand how to practically manage the logistics of an editorial calendar.
Your editorial calendar is the most tactical version of your content strategy. It is the single source of truth all members of your content team should reference to understand what content assignments are coming up and how they fit into the broader scheme of messaging for the month or quarter. Editorial plans can vary from firm to firm, but they typically include:
- Which content types are best suited for which assignments
- Which personas each assignment intends to target
- The messaging strategy for each assignment
- The author of each assignment
- The topic and buying stage of each assignment
- The publication date of every assignment
- The promotion date of every assignment
There are a lot of details to manage, especially for multiple months on end. But there’s a trick to doing this well: running a productive recurring editorial team meeting.
How to Lead an Editorial Team Meeting
Leading a productive editorial team meeting each month is one of the most important habits you can build in order to sustain your content plan long term. Your editorial calendar is full of detail and when poorly managed, your writers may go rogue and write about topics that fail to align with your core messaging strategy. A well-run editorial meeting provides a structure for topic ideation that keeps the strategy in the minds of your writers as they’re considering topics for development. Simply put, editorial meetings keep your messaging focused on your prospects’ interests and challenges.
These meetings also establish a rhythm to your content production that your content team will come to rely upon. They infuse a sense of rigor and accountability into your content plan that’s required in order to sustain it every single month. Without this monthly meeting pulse, topics not only run the risk of drifting away from the strategy but also missed deadlines increase and a general lack of understanding of the content strategy’s performance starts to infiltrate your content team.
A good editorial team meeting follows this four-part agenda:
- Reporting. Take some time to review the performance of the content on your website each month. If you’re wondering just how to measure your content’s performance, skip to Chapter 6.
- Strategic Alignment. You are intimately familiar with your firm’s content strategy. Your content team members might not be. Every month, remind your team which personas you’re targeting, which messaging areas of focus you’re elevating, and which buying stages you’re prioritizing. Taking just a few minutes to refresh your team about these strategic elements will keep topic ideation relevant and productive.
- Topic Ideation. The bulk of your meeting is spent deciding on the right topics. Encourage collaboration among your writers. Before finalizing each assignment, be sure your writer understands the intended persona, messaging category, focus keyword(s), and buying stage.
- Deadlines. Don’t break from your editorial meeting until everyone is clear on their respective content development workflow steps (they might look different per writer) and each step’s deadline.
The Ideal Content Production Workflow
Once you’ve established a monthly cadence of editorial meetings, it is time to turn your attention to managing your content plan between meetings. To do so, you’ll need to establish a content production workflow that suits your team.
A content production workflow defines the individual steps in the content creation process. It is a guide your writers will use to take their topic from conception to publication. While content production workflows vary from firm to firm, one objective they all have in common is to provide a reasonable runway for content production. A good workflow eliminates the possibility of procrastination in the writing process. It forces your writers to take incremental steps along the path of content production throughout the month. If you’re suffering from a lack of momentum in your content plan, it’s likely you need to create (or optimize) your content production workflow.
There are many approaches you might take to content production, but most workflows typically involve some version of these five steps:
- Outline. Even writers who claim not to need to outline their work as part of their writing process can benefit from this step. Outlines come in all shapes and sizes but their shared purpose is to establish a clear direction for the content before it is written. Outlines summarize the topic and include a few important points that support the central argument. Documenting these few details before beginning the writing process will focus your writer’s attention and infuse some momentum into the writing process.
- First Draft. A first draft is an attempt at turning the outline into a cogent piece of content. The more developed your outline, the easier the drafting process tends to be.
- Editing & Review. Most content teams will find it useful to designate a primary editor. This person should be someone who is very familiar with the content strategy and can objectively provide not only standard copy edits but also feedback relating to the article’s tone, target persona, and primary argument made in the piece. (By the way, you can learn more about how to work with an editor here.)
- Second Draft & SEO. A second draft is all about integrating edits, polishing the draft, and preparing the content for publication. This includes writing the SEO metadata for the page on your site.
- Imagery. Creating appropriate imagery for your content can often happen in conjunction with the development of the second draft. Once the content has clearly defined direction, it’s time to create any visual assets necessary to support it online. This not only includes artwork for the web page but also imagery to support email and social media promotions.
- Publication. The final step in the content production workflow is to enter the content properly into your CMS and publish to your live website. Make sure to remember to include the intentional metadata you planned out in step 4, including the H1 tag, SEO title, URL, and meta description.
Building a Culture of Content Marketing
A step-by-step guide (like this one) for creating a digital content strategy will help you understand the fundamentals to put in place in order to have a successful content plan. But for many firms, the most difficult part of content marketing comes after the content plan is defined: sticking to the plan day in, day out, amidst a busy work schedule.
This is the hard work of content marketing. It takes time to socialize this practice inside of your firm and to find the discipline to execute against the plan reliably throughout the year. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to ensure the consistent adoption of your content plan throughout your organization:
- Don’t go it alone. One man bands don’t work well when it comes to content marketing. You are much more likely to sustain your plan long term if you’re sharing the responsibility and work load with other experts in your business whom you trust.
- Get team buy-in early. The sooner in the content strategy planning process you include other team members, the more personally tied they will feel to the process. Give your team a chance to shape the direction of the strategy and you’ll find they’re more personally attached to sustaining it long term. Plus, your content strategy will benefit from the varied perspectives and areas of expertise of your team.
- Consider communication styles. The content types you choose to include in your content plan should be informed not only by your SEO and lead engagement strategy but also by the communication styles of your content team members. Don’t force your non-writers to write a monthly blog when they’d be much better suited to host a podcast or webinar instead. Similarly, don’t ask an employee to overcome severe stagefright to give a public talk when they’d be much more successful at deeply researching and producing a written piece of content. Your content portfolio does need to be varied, but it’s important to consider the individual strengths of your content team members and assign people to content types that align with the ways they naturally communicate with the world.
- Appoint a content marketing project manager. If at all possible, find someone at your organization to shepherd the content marketing production process. This will allow you to establish a specific content development workflow, assign deadlines to key milestones within that workflow, and hold yourself accountable to those deadlines. Without someone at the helm to manage this process, details slip and procrastination increases. Before you know it, months pass without any progress. Designate a leader of your content marketing initiative and give them the time and authority to manage it for you.
- Measure and report back to your team. Content marketing is a lot of work. Nothing kills team motivation and momentum faster than wondering if the content plan is working. This is why you must measure the efficacy of your content strategy (more on how to do that in Chapter 6). Critical to any content strategy are clear marketing objectives, established benchmarks, and measurement of performance over time. Once your team experiences content marketing success, they will be far more motivated to sustain that strategy long term.
Creating a culture of content marketing at your firm will take time, but just like any new habit you build, it gets easier with commitment and consistency. In our final chapter, you will learn how to analyze the efficacy of your content strategy so you can sustain your team’s culture of content marketing long term.
How to Measure the Success of a Content Marketing Strategy
Many firms will participate in content marketing just for the sake of “doing” content marketing. But the best content marketing strategies are supported by tangible data that proves their performance and success. Reporting is a critical element of a content marketing plan. But the question remains, what factors should you measure in the first place? What are the key indicators of a successful content strategy? How do you establish benchmarks of success? How often should you measure your performance against those benchmarks? This final chapter answers these questions and provides clear advice for integrating a reporting process into your content marketing plan.
How to Establish Clear Content Marketing Goals
The first step toward integrating a reporting process into your content marketing plan is establishing clear goals for the initiative. There are many reasons a firm might choose to get into content marketing, but here are a few of the most common:
- Increased brand awareness. As discussed in Chapter 3, blog posts are one of the most valuable tools at your disposal if you are looking to drive more traffic to your website. If your goal is to increase the number of people aware of your firm and expertise, content marketing with a focus on a strong blogging strategy is a great option for you.
- Increased lead development. As we also covered in Chapter 3, there are many content types that are designed to increase the number of form submissions you receive through your website. If you are looking to generate new leads or nurture the people already on your website, you should invest your time in gated content like white papers, webinars, and content upgrades.
- Sharpened point of view. Some firms use their content strategy as a way to sharpen their expertise. How well do you think know your area of specialization? How often have you tried to put it into written word? Writing forces you to deepen your command of your insight and present it in a way that’s digestible and retainable. No matter how experienced you are, if you haven’t written about your area of focus, you are likely to enjoy the benefit of sharpened expertise and a more poignant point of view once you do.
- Evolving a marketplace positioning. Most businesses experience the evolution of their own positioning over time. Perhaps they are tightening their focus. Maybe they are breaking into a new market. Whatever the scenario, content marketing can help firms establish credibility in a sector or service area in which they have less experience.
- Outbound marketing fodder. For firms investing in an email tool or marketing automation system, or for those choosing to run digital advertisements, a content strategy is critical. This is the fuel to feed those outbound marketing engines.
Whatever your reasons for getting into content marketing, articulate and share them with your team. Once your team is bought in, work together to document where you are today and where you would like to be. Too many firms jump into content marketing without a clear understanding of what they hope to accomplish. When it becomes difficult to sustain, you’ll need your early defined goals to help level-set your team and make sure you are investing in content marketing for the right reasons.
Common Content Marketing Performance Metrics
How you choose to measure your content marketing progress will of course depend upon your initial objectives, but there are a few common performance indicators that most content marketers monitor closely:
- Page views. The number of times a particular page on your website is viewed within a specific time period. In most cases, you will want to see your thought leadership pages bring in more page views than other areas of the site.
- Time on page. This metric indicates the amount of time a user spends on the web page. Comparing this metric between different content pieces on your site can give you insight into which areas of the messaging strategy your audience finds most interesting.
- Organic traffic. If you are looking to increase brand awareness through content marketing, you will want to watch the percentage of your total traffic that is attributed to organic search. Ideally, at least 40% of your monthly traffic is coming in through organic search. Highly successful content marketing firms will see upwards of 75% or more of their traffic coming in through this channel.
- Conversion rate. The percentage of all visitors who submit a form on the website. The more conversion-focused your content portfolio, the higher you can expect your conversion rate to be. A healthy goal to shoot for is a 3% conversion rate across the entire website.
You can monitor all of the above performance metrics using the common analytics tool Google Analytics. In addition to these data-driven performance indicators, it is also important to monitor the performance of various strategic elements of your content plan:
- Content type. Which types of content are most successful at driving conversions, increasing organic traffic, or achieving the highest time on pages?
- Messaging strategy. Can you draw a correlation between certain messaging areas of focus and your highest viewed or most converted content?
- Audience personas. How does your content targeting each persona perform? Is there a particular persona that engages in a more interesting way over another? How might that inform your future topics?
The more intentional you are with your goals and the strategic elements of your plan, the more meaningful your data will be. Taking the time to collect and analyze these metrics will give you insight into how to evolve your content marketing strategy.
In this comprehensive guide to creating a content marketing strategy, you have learned all of the fundamentals to get started with content marketing at your firm. For easy reference, we covered:
Chapter 1: Positioning’s Role in Your Content Plan
Chapter 2: Persona Development & Messaging Strategy Design
Chapter 3: Choosing Between Common Content Types
Chapter 4: SEO and Your Content Strategy
Chapter 5: How to Practically Manage Your Content Plan
Chapter 6: How to Measure the Success of a Content Strategy
Remember, your website’s thought leadership content is often responsible for making the first impression of your brand on your prospects. Use this guide to create a content marketing strategy that will result in meaningful, empathetic messaging that bolster their perception of your expertise.