How to improve your content marketing strategy

Apr 21, 2018
Content Marketing

We all know you need a strategy for content marketing, right?

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has hammered it home for years – the most successful content marketers not only have a strategy, they follow it closely.

 For the majority of companies (more than 60 per cent according to multiple annual surveys from CMI) content marketing strategies and dental floss have a lot in common. We know we should use it, but a lot of us don’t bother.

It might seem like a laborious task, but the success or failure of your content marketing efforts hinges on how well you formulate your plan. After writing dozens of strategies, I can say with confidence the following tips will put you on the right path with your content marketing.  

Write it down

Make sure you document your strategy.

 Plenty of marketers claim to have a strategy but haven’t written it down. Guess what? That’s not a strategy. Unless your team and service providers are mind readers, it will never be as effective as it could be. If you get sick, take a holiday or leave the organisation, the strategy goes with you. If you’ve done the hard work of research and formed educated conclusions, make sure to write them down and share them with your team.  

If it’s already sounding too hard, why not get help with your content marketing strategy?

Here’s what else can you do to improve your content creation strategy.

Define your purpose

Before you dive into research, there’s a necessary planning step many people skip. It’s essential to determine the purpose of your strategy, or the main goal you’re trying to achieve.

It’s your first opportunity to set expectations within your organisation about what content marketing will deliver. Now is the time to have debates about purpose – not a year after implementation when you’re trying to get more budget approved for another year of content creation.

Your purpose can be any one of the following but it shouldn’t be more than one, or possibly two, at the very most. Here are common business goals for a content marketing initiative.

Get consensus on your messaging

Most businesses spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to tell prospective customers and how they want to say it. Not many think about what it is their customers are expecting to hear – or even better – what they want to hear.

This can be a fatal mistake in a content marketing strategy. If you are going to market with the wrong message, all the content in the world won’t help you. Even worse is having different people approach the market with their own idea about messaging.

Getting consensus is vital to audience attraction but there’s an added benefit – you also start educating key stakeholders in your organisation about content marketing.

A key messaging workshop is a great way to get your customer-facing employees on the same page – sales, customer support, help desk, and reception along with your executive team and board.

When they’re included in your strategy efforts at the beginning, it saves time when trying to get your strategy implemented. You don’t have to start an internal education campaign about what you want to do. As a bonus, those who have been involved in formulating the messaging usually look forward to the rollout.

Listen to the Brand Newsroom team discuss the importance of consensus thinking between sales and marketing.

Define your audience

If your target audience is ‘anyone and everyone’, you’re already in trouble. The most effective content marketing focuses on a narrow group and all content creation is aimed at those people. Think about it: how you sell footwear to a teenage boy is going to be entirely different than how you would convince a middle-aged woman. You want your content to speak directly to the people reading, listening or viewing it. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach and expect it to be effective.

Read more about determining the right audience for your content marketing strategies – and why content marketers might confuse Prince Charles and Ozzie Osbourne if they’re not careful.

Know your audience

Once you have your goals and audience defined, it makes sense to spend a little bit of time finding out what keeps your target audience up at night. What do they want to know? What questions do they have that you can answer? How are they searching? Where are they hanging out?

Make sure to plan ample time to understand audience behaviour and to find out what they want and need. You should plan on spending at least 10 hours in research.

A great tool to use in your audience research is Serpstat. Pop any keyword into the search bar and it shows you what questions people ask when searching for that word or phrase. See what happens when you type in ‘voting rights’? You already have a clear idea what people want to know.

Don’t fence yourself in

A strategy is a long-term view of how you can gain traction through content marketing. The more constraints you give yourself, the less effective it will be.

Whatever you do, avoid worrying about your budget or your staffing issues when you write your strategy. You want a utopian view of what can be accomplished.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having to revisit your strategy every time you get more budget or a request for more content. If you’re enjoying increased confidence from your management team because your content marketing is working, putting the brakes on to revisit the strategy is a good way to lose that confidence.

You don’t have to implement a whole strategy in one go but if your strategy is too narrow, you won’t have anywhere to go with it.

Believe me when I say an element of ignorance is important when developing a content marketing strategy.

Avoid the ‘post and hope’ syndrome

If you’re going to spend time planning your content creation, then you should spend an equal amount of time thinking about how you’re going to get it to your target audience.

Every strategy should have a section on the best way to distribute your content. The internet is littered with excellent content that’s never found. It happens when  marketers post and hope their audience finds their content.

Make sure to consider the following distribution options for your brand. These may be channels you have already established or ones you need to set up.

Lastly, get your staff to share your content on their social channels, if appropriate. LinkedIn and Twitter are a good place for your co-workers to share employer content without encroaching on their personal networks.

Go big; go wide

A great strategy gives special consideration to two facets of the target audience:

If you have a network of subscribers, fans and followers, that’s great. If you don’t, you’ll have to make sure your content lands in the right place.

That means using amplification techniques designed to find those people who might be interested in your content if they knew about it – or you knew about them.

The techniques used in amplification are mostly in the pay-to-play vein and include:

If you’re not familiar with the term syndication, you’ve certainly seen it in action. Popular products include Outbrain, Taboola and Disqus. Syndication tools take your content and place it on other online properties, often showing up as recommendations at the bottom of an article or blog post. Here’s an example of Outbrain recommendations.

Disqus shows recommendations on blog posts through their commenting app. You can set it to show only your articles at the end of your comments section or you can monetize your blog and allow content from other sites to be published.

Regardless of the amplification techniques you recommend in your strategy, make sure it addresses how to spread your content far and wide to find potential readers, listeners and viewers.

Determine measurement methods

A big downfall to content marketing initiatives the world over is lack of measurement. If you can’t measure the success of your investment, it’s hard to secure ongoing budget.

If you don’t measure, you can’t report. If you can’t report, you can’t show any sort of return. If you can’t prove it’s been a good investment for the company, you’ll run out of money faster than you can type ROI.

Your strategy is a great place to define the success measurements up-front. You can get agreement before any content is produced about what’s needed to determine whether your content marketing is successful. It varies from company to company, but the most successful content marketers focus on conversions over website traffic or social media metrics. Solid conversion metrics include:

You get the point; good metrics track a path to purchase or some sort of profitable customer action. They don’t account for vanity metrics on social media like the number of fans, followers or likes.

Listen in for more ideas about how to quantify your content marketing to your management. You can also read this article about the ROI of content marketing.

Plan for the long term

Content marketing isn’t the best method for quick wins. It’s a slow-burn method of marketing. It starts small and slow before building into a roaring fire. Your strategy should take this into account.

Plan for there to be no measurable results for six months. By the end of the first year, you’ll have concrete success stories. Within 18 months, if you stick to your plan and listen to your audience, you’ll be enjoying the benefits of formulating your strategy.

I want to leave you with one last thing. Content marketing is hard. It’s not fast and it’s not easy to consistently publish or produce high-quality content. Doing the research for a strategy can be tedious. It requires patience and an eye for detail. Whatever you do, don’t skip this step.

I’ve given you ten solid tips on how to improve your strategy. Make sure to work through each one and you’ll be much farther down the road than most content marketers.

If you’d like to speak with me about content marketing strategy, look me up. I’ve been writing them for years and have lots of examples of what works and what doesn’t. I’d love to share those stories with you.