Creating useful, entertaining, and engaging content on a consistent basis isn’t easy. It’s time consuming. It’s hard to come up with new ideas. What you think will be well-received falls flat. Many people publish content haphazardly. There’s little uniting one piece of content to the next. Without a content strategy you’re throwing content against the wall and hoping it will stick.
If you look around the web you’ll find too much content is crap. Some sites stand out for having great content, but the majority produce more garbage than good. Most sites produce content that while occasionally good is inconsistent and meanders from topic to topic. The majority of content on the web is sadly forgettable and does little to promote the goals of the site and users of the site.
What many sites lack is a strategy for their content.
Why You Need a Content Strategy
A strategy is a plan to achieve a goal. Your content should aim at achieving some goal and so it makes sense to have a plan. It makes sense to have a strategy for creating content. Your content should meet business objectives and/or audience goals. Otherwise it doesn’t belong
Developing a content strategy will lead to:
- Better content
- Consistency in your message
- Efficient and intelligent reuse of content
- Better optimization for search engines and conversions
A content strategy will help you focus on what’s important so you can produce better content and produce more content. Your strategy becomes a roadmap leading your marketing and directing you toward your goals and away from wasted effort.
When you fail to have a strategy for your business you run the risk of wasting time, money, and effort on things that won’t help your business regardless of whether or not they succeed. The same is true for your content. Without a strategy you leave to chance it’s benefit to your overall goals.
What is a Content Strategy?
A content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and management of useful and usable content. It makes you think about the 5 Ws and the 1 H.
- What content should be created
- Why create this content
- Who is the best person to create this content
- Where will this content be put to best use
- When should this content be published
- How will this content be created, text, image, video, etc.
In creating a plan for your content that’s aligned with your site and business goals, you think more about each of the above. Your content strategy becomes the roadmap for unifying your content toward the things you want to achieve.
Among other things a content strategy can help define:
- themes and messages
- topics and ideas
- the purpose of your content
- gaps in the industry in general and your site in particular
- appropriate meta data for your content
- an approach to seo
A content strategy is a plan for how you will create useful and goal focused content, how you will publish that content, and how you will manage your content after publication. A content strategy turns your content into a business asset that helps you achieve business goals and helps your audience achieve their goals on your site.
How Do You Develop a Strategy for Creating Content?
The first step in developing a content strategy is to ask yourself why? Why are you going to be publishing content? You need to determine the goals for your site, your blog, your business, and determine how content will help with those goals.
Above everything else this is the most important question to answer when developing a content strategy. You can’t plan anything else without understanding why you’re planning in the first place.
The rest of the steps probably don’t need to be done in any order. It’s really about considering a variety of things and making determinations about how they’ll help with the why you answered above.
If you have existing content you might want to move next to a review and analysis of all your existing content. Take an inventory and decide how it is or isn’t helping you achieve your goals. You may decide some of your content is fine as it is, some should be pruned, and some could be tweaked and improved.
Below are several articles that talk more about content strategy. They don’t all explicitly tell you how to develop a strategy for your content, but you should have a greater understanding how you would develop your strategy after reading them.
- Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data
- Complete Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy
- The Discipline of Content Strategy
- The Content Strategist as Digital Curator
- Blog Content Strategy 101
- A Three-Step Approach to Strategic Content Development
- A Common Sense Content Strategy
Content Types and the Buying Cycle
Think about what content is. It’s easy to hear the word content and think text, but content comes in a variety of types.
Think also about the variety within each type above and where in the conversion path someone might be when they encounter your content.
Someone early in the buying cycle may be looking for some information about a topic as you might find in a blog post. Later they may have some specific questions they want answered and a FAQ page might be appropriate. Closer to their decision to buy they might be looking for screen shots, videos, and a full demo.
Start thinking about all these content types and how and where they fit with your goals and your audience’s goals.
Ask yourself who’s best suited to created all those content types? Do you write well or do you need to hire or outsource the writing. What about video? Audio? If your business is you and there’s no money to hire a content creator, decide how you will improve your skills in the multiple types of content you want to create.
Can you focus on one or two types until you’ve increased your skills in others? Be honest with yourself where your skills are involved and determine if you would be better off hiring someone else regardless of how much money is in the budget.
Fill Content Gaps
Spend time researching your industry and potential customers as well as your own content and seek to identify content gaps.
- Are there topics that aren’t being covered or covered well?
- Is there a topic that’s always written about, but has little video ?
- What content seems to generally do well attracting traffic, links, comments?
- What topics appear again and again and again?
Your research should lead you to ideas for specific pieces of content as well as themes you should keep returning to. The message you want to communicate should also play a large part in the themes that develop in your content.
Plan for Content Reuse
Think not just about the now, but the future. Can you sustain a blog about your chosen topic? Is the topic one that changes over time and if so what might the future of the topic look like? Will there be new technologies and content types you should be paying attention to? Think about developing sub-plans that have an eye on the future.
Ask yourself if you can reuse existing content or ideas. Take your text-driven article and:
- Create a screen cast
- Invite others in the industry to do an audio interview on the topic
- Rewrite the content for a guest posting opportunity
- Turn it into a series
- Create an infographic
How can you recycle and reuse content you’ve created and ideas for future content?
Plan for Optimization
You should have a list of keywords and keyphrases to target. Can you create content around certain phrases and keyword themes? Again consider the buying cycle and think which keywords are more appropriately targeted with which content types.
You also want to identify places outside your site where you can create content. Does it make sense to create for Twitter, Facebook, or any other community site. Will your content on these sites promote your brand or direct traffic back to your website? Are there sites on your topic that provide guest posting opportunities.
By no means is the above an all inclusive list of things to do when developing your strategy. The main point is to think more about the purpose of your content and how your content can best help in your and your goals and your audience’s goals.
It’s also important to note that your content strategy should be iterative. Goals might change. Audience interest might change. Your skills will change. You’ll develop a greater understanding of your content over time. Develop a strategy and then keep revising and refining that strategy.
Content producers offline have known the value of an editorial calendar for many, many years. Some online are now also learning the benefits. An editorial calendar is simply a publishing schedule that allows you to plan ahead what content you’ll create and when you’ll publish it.
Planning content in an editorial calendar helps you see the bigger picture. Does a particular article fit well in your strategy? Would it work better at a different time?
You can better plan your work schedule when you see what’s in front of you and improve quality as you aren’t leaving it till the last minute to write today’s post. Planning things in advance adds a buffer of time between idea and finished product. It allows for you to write with a process instead of on a whim.
A calendar can also help you plan when to publish. People read differently on Monday than they do on Friday. Different content is probably appropriate for each day. Certain topics will naturally generate more interest timed with a given holiday or annual event.
A calendar makes it easier to schedule posts when interest in the topic is at it’s strongest.
Michael Gray uses this idea to create an seo editorial calendar to maximize potential search traffic. Using tools like Google Trends and Google Insights you can discover peak searching times and know best when to publish.
Ultimately an editorial calendar allows you to:
- Plan ahead
- Plan your work schedule to get more done
- Maximize the reach of your content
- Capitalize on search trends and interest in specific events
- Increase quality
Keep in mind that your editorial calendar should be flexible. Assuming a planned post isn’t time-sensitive there’s no reason why it can’t be pushed back a week or two so you can publish some time sensitive content instead.
Also there’s no reason why your plan for next month needs to be etched in stone. Part of the benefit of an editorial calendar is being able to see how all your content looks over time within the big picture so you can adapt it better to fit your overall content strategy.
With content being so important to the success of your site, doesn’t it make sense to put some time into planning it? Doesn’t it make sense to develop a strategy for creating, publishing, and managing your content?
A content strategy will focus your content on achieving your goals and help you help your audience achieve their goals. It gets you to think about what content to create and how best to format that content. If gets you to think about when and where to publish different content and who has the skills to create different types of content.
Most importantly it gets you to think about why you’re creating content in the first place so you can make sure it moves you towards goals instead of away from them.
An editorial calendar can be an aid to a content strategy as it can help you see the larger picture in your publishing schedule and help you adapt your schedule to better fit your strategy.
Do you plan your content or do you create it by the seat of your pants? Do you use an editorial calendar and if so have you found it helps you?
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.