How to create a content strategy in 11 steps
The term “content strategy” can be pretty intimidating at times. There are many business owners I know who are convinced about content marketing, but have not gone beyond ‘thinking’ of how to create a content strategy. Most view “content strategy” to be a really long document, which is crafted by specialists through months of critical research and also a pretty expensive process. While some part of it might be true – that it takes some amount of research and study to create a content strategy – the rest of it isn’t. A content strategy document can be made by a business owner himself or herself and does not need to be an expansive or an expensive process of creating a 100-page document.
So in this blog, we decided to take all the methods and processes we use to build a content strategy for a client and create a guide on how you could do it for your client. To help you understand the process better, we will be creating a content strategy for a hypothetical client from scratch and go through every part of the process in detail.
Please note that not every step might apply to everyone since each strategy is built on the basis of a unique situation. How you will build your content strategy will depend a lot on the nature of your business or what your client has asked for. Whatever be the case, this template should help you achieve the objective.
So let us begin by profiling our sample client – Client 1:
Client 1 is an online grocery shopping company that delivers groceries at value prices in select cities. It is relatively new in the field (six months old) and is facing stiff competition from its competitors. It needs an effective content marketing strategy to boost its organic traffic and conversions in the long term. The brand has been selling normal groceries but recently introduced two categories – farm fresh vegetables and traditional sweetmeats.
Here’s where we start:
Research and assumptions
This is one of the most crucial steps for creating a solid content marketing strategy. It does take time but don’t cut corners here as your entire strategy will fall flat if you don’t get the basics right. As a first step try to find out as much information about your client and chalk it out on paper. What we described about the clients above is a generic description. Here’s the breakdown of how we start with research:
- Perception: How is your brand perceived? What values does the brand project to its customers? Is this perception aligned with the brand’s current content?
- Goals: What is the overarching goal for the brand as a whole? Remember that this may be a two-pronged thing where there is a goal for the list of products under the same brand name and individual goals for particular products.
- Media and Channels: What channels does the brand operate on (Online / offline). In each case, what is the media used? Is the brand doing well (have good ROI rates) on any one channel? What is the communication strategy followed in that channel?
- Competitors: Who are your brands online and offline competitors? (These may be the same or entirely different) What is their popular perception? What are their perceived advantages? Where are they lacking?
- Target Audience: Put down demographics, psychographic and personas of customers. What are their primary needs and how can the brand step in to solve them? What are their latent needs?
- Content Audit: Evaluate all the existing content in both online and offline media. This includes content on the site, in advertising material, press releases, presentations, social channels, blogs. Also check online analytics to see which content has been popular among users. Online analytics can also provide you with insights on popular keywords. Also look for missing content – is there a place where additional content can make a difference. Missing FAQs and gaps in the Contact Us page are examples of this.
Example of Research and Assumptions for Client 1
Perception: Women from urban households form the primary customer base for Client 1. They perceive that the brand will offer convenience shopping for their household grocery needs. The perception that applies across the segment is that not only the client but their competitors offer better value shopping than the local grocers with additional convenience.
Goals: The client wants to project the key factors that differentiates from its online competitors – one the convenience of shopping from local stores with trusted quality which other online stores do not offer. They want to effectively use content marketing to increase traffic and conversions on the website.
Media and Channels: Client 1 is primarily an online brand. Even then, it uses print advertising like pamphlets, mobile advertising and event advertising to spread awareness and gain customers.
Competitors: Client 1’s competitors are both online and offline. Online, it faces stiff competition from full-stack grocery companies who regularly put out content on a daily basis. Offline, the local grocer and market have been the traditional way for people to shop. Though, from a content perspective, they do not create any content. This gap can prove to be an advantage for our client.
Target audience: Client 1 has a predominantly female urban audience who want to save their weekend shopping time and instead use it to spend time with the family. Their primary need is to ensure that the grocery shopping is within the family budget
Content Audit: Client 1 has a predominant presence via its website where it lists out products, projects a customer-friendly image with its content. In addition to this the client has a fledgling blog and presence on social channels. Offline, the client has a few pamphlets and POS material. It also has advertising material that can be put up during events like standees and banners.
When you finish, be sure to share this document with your client to see if you are on the same page. Given that they are the brand owners, they may have some additional perspectives.
We shared our assumptions with Client 1 and they helped us tweak some parts of it. The target audience, for example, also included the urban male shoppers! The women came not only from Tier-1 cities but Tier-2 cities too. It was not only urban working women who wanted the convenience of online shopping but also housewives who wanted to save money. The client also told us about the recently launched Mithai / Sweetmeat section that needed a push, especially in the festive season.
Armed with this info, we moved to the next part of the content marketing strategy.
Chalking out the core strategy and plan
You have now complete understanding of the environment and situation of your/ your client’s business. Based on this understanding, you will be building the content plan. This section helps you set the foundation correct, map the route that is. We look at –
The core strategy: This isn’t a document. In fact, it is just one sentence that captures exactly what the company wants to do. It is the one that you everyone in the team can easily remember and go back to each time they create a content or campaign. This allows you to ensure that whatever you do is aligned with the core strategy. This is then followed by –
Communication strategy: These are broad strokes of messages that the company needs to send out to its target audience
Content plan overview: Key points under your content recommendations and what you expect the content workflow to be.
Example – Client 1
Core strategy: Client 1 is the smartest choice to buy grocery online where you can conveniently order anything from sweetmeats to daily supplies and save money.
The three themes that resonate in the communication strategy are
- Budget shopping
- Quality assurance
- Availability of traditional Sweetmeats
Content Plan Overview
The core strategy and three themes will be integrated into the website content, blog, newsletters/emails, social channels, advertisements, and Point of Sale (PoS) communication.
Now that we know which way to go, let’s analyze each content landscape and understand how to build the content lifecycle.
Section i: Website Content
Website content is mostly the static content you put out on the site. Everything from your homepage text to buttons to white papers to contact information, once written, will mostly stick for a while until you have a brand change coming up. It is also important to keep in mind that your content plan for the website should align with the client’s SEO strategy.
Example – Client 1
The tone of your content on the website: While we will expand about the tone and brand voice in the next chapter, it is important to get the basic tone right. For Client 1, you are the voice of a friendly neighbour who has discovered a new trend in shopping. More so, you also share tips and hacks that can save your customer’s time and money. We decided to bring out the ‘I’m here to help’ tone in all aspects of your writing.
Quantity and quality of content do you have overall: Both quality and quantity of text content play a huge role in your organic ranking. Expanding certain existing content can ensure that each page has an optimum amount of text is one of the key things to focus on.
What is the optimum amount of text?
While there isn’t an exact number, it is well-established that long-form authoritative content works better for conversion. In this case, 1500+ words work as a starting point as most articles or websites that rank high organically mostly have 2000+ words on the page. OkDork analysed 100 M articles to share this conclusion.
Image Source: okDork by NOAH KAGAN
Content on the website goes into the minutest of things like help text within a search box that prompts people to search or text that goes into automatic emails received during registration or transactions. It extends into an SEO friendly footer, category names, press release and media section, drop downs and menus.
(Optimized) Images on the website: Images not only need to be optimized with clear alt-text but also be compressed without loss to ensure quick loading. We use an online tool called Shrink-o-matic, which works great. If you have a WordPress website, you could simply use a plugin like BWMinify to ensure that the rest of the site is optimized for size too.
Error messages and 404s
No one likes a nasty 404 but optimizing it may just about prevent users from leaving the website. Something as simple as a customized message with a site search box can help the user find their way back. Here is more information on optimizing 404 pages
SEO friendly elements on site
H1 tags, breadcrumbs, footers, titles, keywords, meta description, link alt text and links are the other elements which need to have search engine friendly content
Client 1 right now has a simple contact page that asks users to leave a message and their contact information.
For Client 1, this was one of the most important static page after the homepage that got a lot of users. It clearly showed that people had questions and wanted to be able to trust the brand before making a purchase.
Content Internal Linking
Internal linking is on often ignored part during website content creation. It plays a vital role in helping people navigate through the website. For Client 1, this meant that we link the recipes on the blog with the ingredients sold on the site. It also meant linking products to offers and Customer Support Information to site policies on return, cancellation, shipping and rewards.
Section ii – Blog
Although blog is a part of the website it is a dynamic element which is one of the best arsenals in a content marketing strategy. A fresh blog can pull in new traffic on the website and compel users to explore and even become a paid customer. Client 1 currently had a fledgling blog with a few posts on starting up. Our content marketing plan first picked up the long-tail keywords from the SEO analysis to come up with a laundry list of topics. We also looked at content from the industry that had a flavour to go viral and added it to our list.
The next thing to do was to fix an editorial calendar. What was being written and posted, when and how, the effectiveness of the content and how much traffic and engagement it attracted could be tracked in one place.
Buying groceries had so many facets to it! It holds memories from our childhood, which only had a single local supermarket if we were lucky. It is about buying, cooking and eating healthy for the whole family. It is about tips and hacks on food and life. It is about finding all the wonderful things to do in the time that you save with the convenience of online grocery shopping. It is about how to buy the freshest produce. It is about stretching the rupee and getting the best value for your money. It is about offering a behind the scenes glimpse about Client 1 and their work culture. It is about stories that customers created with the brand. With this in mind, we picked out topics that best aligned with the long tail keywords to produce an editorial calendar with timelines.
In addition to this, we also recommended that the blog start using tags for all content and also start creating video content.
Section iii – Newsletters and Emails
Email marketing is one of the least expensive ‘pull’ factors for website. It brings back your regular and loyal customers to check out what’s new on the site. Auto-generated emails also work great for tracking, notification and engagement. To ensure Client 1 had those emails in line, we took a two-pronged approach.
- Drip marketing: We charted the entire customer journey steps with if-then loops and action-reaction emails to write and set drip marketing emails. We noticed that a high cart abandonment rate plagued the entire industry. In a study conducted by Baymard, 68% or one in four ecommerce customers abandoned their cart.
According to Business Insider, initial emails sent three hours after a customer abandons a cart, average a 40% open rate and 20% click rate. We decided to tweak Client 1’s emails through all processes to get a higher open and click rate. Minor tweaks like getting an email when the item is back in stock also helped Client 1 pull back customers.
- We put together the content format for the regular weekly newsletter that contained useful information and latest offers and deals. This meant we could see a surge of traffic on the newsletter send out day and create deals accordingly.
Section iv – Social Channels
There are hundreds of social networks and it only makes sense to be on the top ones which have a fair share of your target audience. For Client 1, this meant being on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, G+, Instagram and Pinterest. Each channel offers a unique way to reach a particular target audience.
For Client 1, Facebook meant to reach the masses and hence the content was to follow the 80/20 rule with maximum content providing value information. Twitter on the other hand was a great way to reach out to influencers like food bloggers and others to share guest posts. Linkedin worked well in helping create the corporate brand imagery where Client 1 could put out statistics, research and insights based on their own experience and also speak about their corporate culture and hiring needs. G+ continues its hold from an SEO perspective. Both Instagram and Pinterest helped in creating the brand imagery of fresh, quality produce.
Section v – Ads and PoS Communication
Off-site content is any content that is not on your site. It can be content used in sales material, marketing communication and PoS displays. While Client 1’s creative agency was primarily responsible for this, we still did our best to ensure that the best points that flow through other media are also reflected in external communication’.
Section vi – Press release
A press release is an official statement put out by a brand from from time to time. It can be about product updates, research, brand news and more. For Client 1, the first PR opportunity is a low-hanging fruit with the launch of a new vertical for sweetmeats. Hence our key task is to create a news-worthy release along with stats and how Client 1 is doing well in the segment. The release was also tweeted out to all our partners who were online for exponential reach.
Section vi – Brand Etiquette
Even as the core strategy discussed the ‘brand tone’, it is important to create a central reference document that has all the brand guidelines in one place.
Logo usage: Most brands have a single logo. Others have a part of the logo, which becomes the brand’s identity on suitable external media like social channels. There is also a fevicon for the website. Logo usage guidelines includes how the logo is used on different backgrounds (light and dark) and how the styling works according to size.
Company name usage: Is the company referred in its whole name or just as a short form?
Fonts: Fonts are different for online and offline. Online readers prefer larger fonts that can make reading easy across devices. Print, on the other hand, has smaller serif fonts that people are more accustomed to. Usage of font size and styling (H1, H2 tags / regular, bold or italics) is also defined in the document.
Images: Brand imagery is an important medium of communication as it directly evokes a visual perception of the brand. For Client 1, we recommended a mix of original photography and stock images of the freshest produce and tempting sweetmeats.
Colours: Are there specific brand colours to be kept in mind while working on the webpages, offline content material and sales material?
For Client 1, orange and black were the two colours that reflected in the logo. This was visible on parts of the website too. We recommended that these colours also feature in other accents like buttons, highlight text and advertisements to reinforce brand recall.
Section vii- Style and voice
Identifying the voice for a brand is a key factor running through in all its communication. This exercise was already done partly when you defined the core strategy. We use this section to provide further clarity.
Giving a persona to Client 1, we are able to identify the voice of a cheerful 30+-year-old female who finds great comfort in shopping for quality products online and also grabbing a good deal along the way. This voice is now used especially in Facebook. Though a single post is seen by many, it is actually written for the one person in whose feed the post is appearing. This was the tone that was to be followed in the post.
Section viii – The actual process of content creation
Creating content – lots of it – can be a lonely journey unless we learn to leverage the expertise of those around us. This is where we go back to the editorial calendar to understand how the big picture comes together. An organization generally has many experts with different skill sets. Each person has vested interests in putting together content about their expertise. While it works well for the brand, it also projects out the person as a thought leader in the industry.
We then assign responsibility to each piece of content that needs to be created along with a timeline. All the content that is to be created by us goes through a sieve of checks to ensure it follows all the brand voice guidelines and is in line with the core strategy.
We also rope in various people from the client team to prepare them for their role as an influencer in the content brand building exercise. We also include expected guest posts in the list to keep track on their inputs.
Example for Client 1
We got a basic set of topics for Client 1 related to recipes, budget hacks, grocery shopping tips, food tips and more, which was to be created by the content marketing agency. This is neutral help content that we could easily put together. This was in addition to the website content.
The in-house research intern who was gathering insights on competitors and working with Big Data related to online grocery shopping was to put together a whitepaper that could double up for PR.
In addition to this, three people from the CXO level have been made in charge of publishing one brand-building content piece each month. While this would be outlined by us to save time, they would be giving the final touches.
Client 1’s internal team in charge of social content was to be given hand holding by our team for three months until they were fully trained to take over on their own.
Section ix – Promotions
While creating a lot of content is great, it is just hidden gold unless it gets discovered. For this, promoting the content through various channels is a must.
Content can be discovered through the following options
- Social media: The easiest way to attract traffic is via social channels. It is the perfect place to share new content you create and repeat it across time zones to ensure everyone catches a whiff of it and it has a chance to go viral
- Paid search: Certain content related to most searched products can be put up on paid search (directly selling products)
- Paid social: Polls, research, insights, deals and contests are great to be promoted with paid social
- Influencer posting: Creating authoritative content that influencers are likely to share is a great way to increase the content reach.
It is important to remember that the content doesn’t directly “sell” as people tend to be put off by an ‘over-salesy’ approach. Instead, if it contains a tonne of useful information and a few clever brand connections, it works great.
Section x: Measuring the success of your content
How do you measure if a piece of content is good or bad? We all know when we see a good piece but how do we use analytics to prove our point?
- Good content ranks well
This isn’t an absolute measure of good content. There are a lot of factors that make a page rank well for a particular search query. But undoubtedly, good content plays an important role. This can be known only in 3-6 months so it’ll require a patient wait
- Good content gets you leads/conversions
This is applicable to not just one blog or page but the website as a whole. If the content is structured well, it will get you leads and eventually conversions
- Good content continues to drive traffic long after
A well-written blog can continue to pull in traffic even years after it is written (as long as it stays relevant). Tweaking the content over a period of time can help you achieve this
- Decrease in Bounce rate
There are a number of factors that cause an increase in bounce rate including the page speed and design. Bad content is one of them. If the other factors work out, a decrease in bounce rate demonstrates that the content is good
- Increase in Page views
The ‘stickiness’ of a website is a valuable asset. Keeping users in the site and reading more is a great metric for quality content.
- Time on page
This is a classic content metric. People are used to ‘skimming’ through articles to get their quick fix. In fact, article H2s are written for the power skimmers. According to affiliatemarketing.com, under 30 secs is considered bad for a site and over 2 minutes is considered good. According to Moz’s benchmark study, the average session duration for an e-commerce site is 03:49. Our aim is hit and cross the two-minute mark for Client 1.
- Social shares
The ultimate validation for quality content comes from social shares and engagement. The wide sharing of an article socially no only increases its reach but also shouts out as a testimonial for its quality
Applicable for blogs if you accept comments, the quality and quantity of comments show how engaged your readers have been on the blog. They are your evangelists and can continue to come back as repeat visitors.
Section xi: Next Steps
After submitting a detailed content marketing strategy document to the client, we generally get to hear two things –
- That’s great work!
- What do we do next?
Defining a starting point becomes the next and first step in the execution of a content strategy.
Here’s where we start –
- Content audit
- Prioritize content work (If you’ll be starting with the website and then move to the blog)
- Set up the editorial calendar
- Begin active social media outreach
At any time that you need a guiding light, going back to the core strategy will help you find the way.
Congratulations on creating your first content strategy document. Good luck!