Content marketing is an effective tool for marketing your business and growing your sales. But with so much content already out there and everyone’s bandwidth for consuming it shrinking, standing out and attracting your ideal readers is becoming more difficult than ever.
That’s where a content strategy comes in. It allows you to start with a solid foundation so you stop spending hours creating content just to update your site, and instead put it to work generating quality leads for your business.
Research by the Content Marketing Institute shows that 72% of B2B marketers attribute the development of a content strategy to the overall success of their organization’s content marketing. Furthermore, 40% attribute the lack of a strategy to the decline in success of their content marketing.
As you can see, having a game plan is one of the biggest assets to being successful with your content marketing. Without a roadmap, how do you know where you’re going and what steps you’re going to take to get there?
Although a content strategy may sound a little overwhelming, I’m going to break it down for you so you can crush your content marketing game in 2019.
Step 1: Establish Your Objectives
Setting goals is the best thing you can do to start absolutely any strategy. A strategy without proper goals in place is like putting together a puzzle without knowing the end result. Sure, you have all the pieces, but how do you know what the end result is supposed to look like?
An article by General Assembly on how to establish laser-focused goals put it perfectly:
So, how do you establish goals for your content strategy, then?
1. Make Your Goals SMART
S - Specific - None of that “increase by 10-60%” b.s.
M - Measurable - Must be something you can put a number to
A - Agreed Upon - Run them by someone on your team to get their opinion
R - Realistic - It’s highly unlikely you’ll increase your Twitter followers by 1,000% in one week organically
T - Time Based - So you want to get to 2,000 subscribers...but by when?
An example of a SMART goal would be something like:
We want to generate 400 brand strategy leads in the next 6 months. Leads generated will be defined as email addresses & first names. This will help us reach our goal of gaining 20 qualified customers in the next 6 months (based on a 5% lead-to-customer conversion rate).
2. Establish KPIs for Every Objective
For every objective you have in place, ask yourself (or your team): What are the top 1-3 metrics that show us that we’ve hit our objectives?
These can vary, but they might include things such as:
Number of leads generated
Open rate (emails)
Number of followers
As an example, we’ll break down the goal from above:
We’re going to track leads generated from content relating to brand strategy. Our top metrics will be 1) Number of leads generated from brand strategy-related content between January 1 and July 1 and 2) Number of leads converted into customers between January 15 and December 31.
3. Set Up Analytics & Measure Regularly
Now that you know what goals you want to hit and what KPIs to watch, it’s time to set everything up so you can keep track of your performance.
Use tools like Google Analytics, Mailchimp reports, Facebook analytics, and any other reporting tool included with whichever 3rd party software you use for your marketing efforts.
Once you have your reporting set up, create an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet or even an Airtable database to track your results. Go in on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis to update your numbers and make changes wherever necessary to improve your results.
4. Think Long-Term
As you finalize your objectives, compare them against your long-term business goals. Where do you see your company in 5 years? 10 years?
Take your objectives and make sure they align with your long-term scale. This way, you know you’re working toward your vision every step of the way.
Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience
No matter how long you’ve been in business, you should have a basic idea of who your customers are. You have at least some knowledge of their pain points, their concerns, their challenges, and what keeps them awake at night.
Ideally, you should have at least one - if not a couple - buyer personas created for your business. When you’re creating content, you should just have one of those buyer personas in mind.
Write to a specific person and address their challenges head-on. You’ll find it’ll help you write like you’re talking directly to a human which will resonate with your customers.
But in order to do that, you have to know who your audience is.
Start With The Demographics
This includes things like:
But of course, that’s just the surface of who a person is. It doesn’t go deep enough into who they are as an actual human being to allow you to address their concerns in a way that connects with them.
That’s why we’ve got to dive deeper and take a look at what makes them tick.
Research The Psychographics
This includes things like:
How would they describe themselves?
What are their goals?
What are their biggest challenges/concerns?
How does your product/service help them solve this challenge?
What are they thinking about the benefits of your product/service?
What do they hope to gain by making the purchase/working with you?
What keeps them awake at night?
What motivates them to act?
What are they doing now they wish were different?
What are their fears?
What do they value?
What are they unwilling to compromise on?
Essentially, you’re getting down to the very core of who they are as a person and why they would be interested in your business/product/service/content. This helps you figure out what kind of value you can provide to them in a way that actually solves their problems.
Getting the Information
At this point, you might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed. That’s okay. Take a deep breath because getting this information isn’t as difficult as it may seem.
We have a couple of go-to methods for gathering information on our buyer personas. These include:
Interview 1-3 people who closely match the profile of each buyer persona. Here are some interview tips that help me during this process.
Gather any missing information from reliable sources like industry publications and even Facebook groups (pay attention to what they’re discussing)
At the end of this, you should have a well-developed buyer persona - or maybe even a collection of them. This way, you can plan your content around their specific concerns and talk to them individually, making it more personal and creating that human connection we all crave.
Step 3: Discover Your Sweet Spot
Imagine it like a Venn diagram. In one circle, you have knowledge/skill. In another, you have your passions. In the third, you have the customer pain point. In the middle, you have magic.
So, how do you figure out what those are? Make a few lists.
1. Your Skills
What are you good at doing? For example, it might be something like:
2. Your Passions
What are you passionate about in life? What gets you out of bed in the morning? For example:
Sexual assault prevention
3. Your Customers’ Pain Points
This is just as important, if not more so, than the other two points. Go back up to the buyer persona you made before and look at their primary challenges & concerns.
For this portion, it goes it a little bit deeper than a simple list. You want to find one or two primary pain points and really aggravate them to the point where your customer needs to do something about it (i.e. hire you, buy from you, etc.).
The StoryBrand framework gives a wonderful guide to breaking down your customers’ problems. It looks a little like this:
External: The tangible problem the hero/customer must overcome
Internal: How does this tangible problem make them feel?
Philosophical: Why does this matter overall? Why is it just plain wrong for them to experience this pain point?
Let’s take a Nespresso coffee machine as an example. This is taken from Donald Miller’s book Building a Story Brand.
Nespresso (villain): coffee machines that make bad coffee
External: I want better-tasting coffee at home
Internal: I want my home coffee machine to make me feel sophisticated
Philosophical: I shouldn’t have to be a barista to make a gourmet coffee at home
Figure out what your customers’ pain points are from an external, internal, and philosophical standpoint and combine that with your skills and passions. That’s your sweet spot.
Step 4: Research Your Keywords
Now that you have your sweet spot in mind, it’s time to turn that into a list of broad potential topics. For example, my topics include:
Business Empowerment for Women
These topics are a great place to start, but I can promise you there are thousands of pieces of content already out there about these. Plus, they’re so broad that it’s nearly impossible to write just one or two pieces of content to cover the entire topic.
So, we’ve got to dive deeper and look for specific keywords we can address. Start by brainstorming topics based on conversations you’ve had with your customers.
What are common challenges for them you can answer? What are questions you almost always get asked?
Write those down. Then, go into Google and search for them. Look for related searches and even browse through the articles already written.
Pro Tip: Download the free Google Chrome app Keywords Everywhere to get additional data & related queries as you do this research.
This is a great place to start. There are a lot of articles out there about keyword research, so I’ll link a couple of them at the bottom of this post.
Pillar Topics vs. Keywords
Due to updates in Google’s search algorithm, a recent strategy has emerged that makes it more likely to become a thought leader in a particular category, rather than trying to rank for specific keywords.
The idea is this: start with a broader topic (i.e. Instagram Marketing) and create 10-20 pieces of content around that topic, linking them all together through one single “pillar page”.
Essentially, this shows Google you’ve written so much about the topic you must know what you’re talking about.
As long as your articles are well-written, provide value, don’t have too much competition, and are linked together appropriately, you are likely to see higher results from a strategy like this versus trying to rank for specific keywords.
Here are a few examples for inspiration:
Step 5: Create an Editorial Calendar
Once you know what kind of content to publish and to whom it will be shared, you just need to know when and where it will be posted. An editorial calendar is a great way to keep track of what you want to create and when you would like to publish it.
There are many ways to create an editorial calendar for your content marketing. You can download a free template, or create your own with an Excel spreadsheet. Whichever way you choose, ensure that at least most of these elements are included:
Working Title - you don’t need to have it decided now, but have something to work off of
Due Date - this is when you’d like to have it done by
Publish Date - this is when you’d like to have it published
Related Persona - which buyer persona was this piece of content created for?
Current Status - are you brainstorming? Researching? Drafting? Or is it already published?
Target Keywords - what keyword(s) are you targeting in this article?
Call-to-Action - what will the ultimate CTA be?
Category - overall blog category/campaign (i.e. “content marketing”)
Journey Stage - what stage in the buyer’s journey is your customer in? Awareness, consideration, or decision?
Publication Location - will this be published as a blog, guest post, Medium, YouTube, etc.?
Format - is this a blog post, social media, newsletter, video, etc.?
Creating a calendar with these elements will ensure you and your team will stay on track when it comes to creating and sharing relevant content.
There are a number of tools you can use to create and store this calendar. My personal favorite is Airtable, but you can also use Excel, Google Sheets, Google Docs, Trello, ToDoist, Google Calendar, or CoSchedule.
Pro Tip: Make sure you include any relevant social media holidays and events. These will help you stay organized when it comes to planning out content that is timely. You might also want to leave a few blank spaces, or at least keep your calendar flexible. This way, when relevant events occur or inspiration strikes, you can easily move around your plans and publish accordingly.
Step 6: A Distribution Plan
Creating the actual content is half the battle. But what many people don’t realize is that at least twice as much effort should go into promoting it. After all, the phrase “build it and they will come” certainly doesn’t work in a world already chalk-full of content.
As you’re creating your distribution plan, look for places your audience is already hanging out and get it in front of them. Keep in mind no one wants to be spammed with your content - it has to provide value and answer their question when they’re looking for it.
Join Facebook groups where your ideal customers discuss current topics. Only bring up your article when it’s relevant to the conversation or if it fits in with a timely discussion.
Meanwhile, you should also craft your social media strategy around your content promotion. Consider channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter where sharing content is common and expected. Automate this process if you can using a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule in advance.
A lot of marketers and business owners also tend to forget about places like Quora or Reddit. While these can be the more “wild” parts of the Internet, intentional promotion there can work well for your brand also.
Whatever you decide, don’t just throw up a link to your content once and forget about it. Create a timely schedule to promote and re-promote for at least a month after it’s gone live. Then, if it’s still successful, continue throwing it in the mix for a while after that.
Things to Keep in Mind When Creating Content
Content marketing has become one of the most popular methods for marketing businesses - and for good reason. It’s a great and often cost-effective way to provide value to your customers and generate word for your business.
But there are certainly right and wrong ways of doing it. The world is already full of mediocre content that’s simply regurgitated from the top 5 articles on any subject. Don’t add to the noise.
Instead, find ways to make your content unique. This can be things like:
Incorporating your personal experience
Telling a story
Combining topics for a twist (i.e. Call of Duty & Entrepreneurship)
Find a new angle on a well-discussed topic
I would also recommend separating your content creation into three separate buckets. These include:
Brainstorming & Ideation: Sit down with a glass of wine and go searching for great ideas
Creation: This is where you sit down with a specific topic in mind and just start writing - no editing allowed
Editing: Sit down with a cup of coffee and go through your content with a fine-tooth comb. Look for ways to trim unnecessary content, fix grammatical issues, make it visual, etc.
And, finally, you don’t have to do it alone. We offer content strategy and creation for ambitious women-owned businesses. We take a strategic approach to telling your story and spreading your message in a way that connects with your customers, provides value, and ultimately grows your business.
Schedule a free consultation with us today and see how we can take your business to the next level with content marketing.
Or, if you’re not ready to outsource, you can also just download this free content strategy template and receive more guides like this geared toward helping you succeed with your content.