Content is the matter of the internet. If it can be read, viewed, watched, streamed, shared, or copied by some knucklehead to pass off as their own, it’s content.
If you’re looking to establish an online presence — for a business, creative endeavor, side hustle, barber college, or anything — you’ll need a content strategy to guide you. It starts with some basic questions.
What’s your unique contribution to the vast expanse of the internet? Who do you want consuming it? And how are they going to find it?
The answers will inform the various components of an effective content strategy: your editorial calendar, design choices, keywords, writing style, distribution platforms and the type of media (text, video, audio, infographic, etc) you’ll create.
With a seeming infinity of options, putting together a game plan that works for you can be overwhelming. To ease you into the wide world of content, we’ve broken down the different options and laid out a series of steps for designing a strategy that achieves your specific goals.
Whatever type of content you create, place a premium on quality. Your strategy should account for the strengths and expertise of you and your team, whether you can afford to outsource some of the work, and the return on investment of your time and money.
Here is a quick rundown of some of the types of editorial content you can choose from:
1. Blog posts
They’ve been around since the dawn of the internet. Basically, blog posts are articles that live on a website. They help define your brand identity and can build up organic traffic to your website through SEO practices and keyword insertion. Blog posts tend to have a more personal, casual touch than a news article or press release.
2. Case studies
If you’re trying to build trust with new customers, creating case studies from the perspective of prior consumers is a tried and tested method. They show your value proposition in real, concrete terms. And they can anticipate questions or concerns people might have about your product or service, and address those issues in a relatable and personal way. Which case studies you choose should be informed by the audience you are targeting.
If you really want to stake your claim to a particular category, trend or point of view, digital books are a great way to do it. They can be collections of blog posts or articles, or original, long-form dives into topics your audience cares about. Because of their length, ebooks are usually posted far less frequently than blog posts or case studies. Making them accessible via email subscription is an excellent way to build up a subscriber base and give those subscribers something of real value.
It’s not a bad rule of thumb to say anything you can explain or deliver visually, you should. If you’re looking to explain a complicated or potentially boring topic, consider a visually engaging infographic that is easy to share on social platforms and more likely distinguish you from your competitors. Don’t think of it as a chart — think of it as a story you’re telling visually.
In recent years, videos have become the most common format in content marketing — topping blogs and infographics. A big part of that is because social platforms adopted video-first mindsets, prioritizing videos over other content. And creating your own videos is easier than ever, with video cameras in your smartphone and an app like (here it comes) Descript, an all-in-one video editing tool that you should definitely try.
Like ebooks, podcasts take a lot of work. But if you can do it, and sustain it, there’s a big market waiting. Some 28 percent of Americans (about 80 million people) listen to podcasts weekly. The medium is well-suited to developing trust and expertise around your brand. And you don’t need an audio-engineering certificate: (here we go again) Descript makes it easy for anyone to produce professional-quality podcasts.
7. Social media
While it’s crucial to have a sharp, engaging website, your brand hardly exists these days without a social media presence. Whatever content you create, social media is a crucial distribution channel. By maintaining an active, on-target social presence, you can raise brand awareness, generate new leads and gain deeper insights into your audience.
What is a content strategy?
So now that you've got the lay of the land, it’s time to draft a content marketing strategy. Here are seven steps to guide you from ideas to execution.
1. Define your business goals
What are you hoping to achieve with your content, in terms of eyeballs, organic traffic, business leads or audience growth.
Follow the "SMART" model. Be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-constrained (as in, set a deadline).
Don’t follow the “DUMB” model. Don’t be distracted, unhinged, moody, and bed-ridden (as in, get up and get dressed already).
2. Create your buyer persona
In other words, research your target audience to define your ideal customer or client, from their age and gender to their profession, motivations, hobbies and even things like their taste in movies (in case they ask you to pick the movie).
Give your personas names, like Jonathan, John, or Jon
This is crucial to focusing your marketing strategy, and should inform all of the decisions that come after it.
3. Run a content audit
Review your existing content to see if it delivers something valuable to that persona.
If it doesn’t, you can revise the existing content, delete it and start fresh, or reorganize to highlight the stuff that does deliver value.
4. Conduct keyword research, and brainstorm new content ideas
Now take an inventory of what exists elsewhere. Plug keywords into search engines and social platforms and see what you find. Spend some time on the websites and social accounts of your competitors.
Draw inspiration, but don’t copy. Ask yourself what your personas are not getting from what’s out there.
5. Apply those ideas to different content types
It’s time to get specific. What kind of content will your audience respond to? Where are they most likely to see it? What exactly do you want to say? What technology will you use to say it?
Start with an outline for blog posts, a storyboard for videos, or a script for podcasts. Then just go. The secret of content is that the only way to know what really works is to start putting stuff out there, see what happens, and iterate.
6. Publish and manage your content
Next, detail how you’ll manage this content, from development to publication. What resources do you need? How will you allocate them?
Unless you have your own IT team, find a content management system, or CMS, that offers integrations with an automated service like Zapier.
7. Evaluating the metrics that define success
Lastly, map out how you will track success (or failure) and make adjustments. Identify your key performance indicators (KPIs) and the software you will deploy to track them (Google analytics, Chartbeat, Social Bakers, etc).
This is a crucial step, so we’ve mapped out some specifics below.
Measuring the effectiveness of your content strategy
The key performance indicators you analyze will depend on the content you’re creating and where it exists in the marketing funnel. Here are some metrics to keep an eye on:
Traffic to your website, and whether it’s organic, paid, or referral
Engagement with your content (time on site, bounce rate, views, etc.)
Conversion rate (how many new subscribers you gain from a piece of content)