Here’s a pair of startling statistics:
92% of marketers view content as an asset, but only 46% have a documented content strategy (according to Content Marketing Institute).
What!? If nearly everyone recognizes the importance of content, why have so few people invested in strategies to build, promote, and measure it?
My guess is that most marketers skip the hard stuff. They want to dive right into the creation part (i.e. the fun part) of content marketing.
Essentially, they forget the “marketing” in “content marketing.”
Sure, it’s easy to write and publish the great idea we had in the car, or the story we remembered during our morning run. But that approach rarely creates long-term content that serves our broader business goals.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t done this myself. When I started out nine years ago, I wrote articles on a whim that
Since then, I’ve audited my blog content and removed those isolated posts (though I don’t regret writing them because they built momentum.) But we can’t write without a strategy forever. At some point, strategy becomes critical.
Why? Because for one, we can’t create content that serves our customers and drives them to action until we know our customers and their problems.
Second, we’re competing with endless direct and indirect competitors online. If we don’t have a roadmap of what success looks like, we’ll never reach it.
And finally, we’re running businesses. And just like we need a plan to grow our business, we also need one to grow our blog.
How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
Your content strategy is a documented plan that guides your content production and promotion. It makes sure the content you create serves your goals. It also minimizes the chance of creating content no one consumes.
There are seven components to a strong content marketing strategy:
- Create SMART Goals
- Get to Know Your Target Audience
- Build Your Content Roadmap
- Assemble Your Content Machine
- Plan Your Promotion Process
- Determine Your Success Metrics
When you use these components together, they have an effect that’s greater than the sum of their parts.
In this post, I
1. Create SMART Goals
This is the most important part of a content strategy, yet most marketers skip right over it.
Your goals are what you’ll measure your tactics against. They’re your compass. Does your work produce results that serve the business, or are you wasting time and money? You’ll never know if you haven’t created proper goals.
It’s easy to say things like “I want to drive more traffic to my website” or “I need leads on my email list.” And while you may want those things, they aren’t goals. Why? Because they aren’t actionable and it will be tough to determine if you achieved them.
A proper goal meets five criteria. We call them SMART
- Specific: The goal is clear and targeted.
- Measurable: The goal is easy to track.
- Achievable: The goal is
- Relevant: The goal relates to our business goals.
- Timely: The goal has a deadline.
Let’s look at two examples of goals.
Bad goal: “I want to grow my brand.”
This goal isn’t specific because it doesn’t give us a target. How do we know if the brand has grown enough to meet the goal?
It’s also unmeasurable because we can’t calculate the size of a brand (at least not with the information the goal gives).
The goal doesn’t have a deadline, so we don’t know when to
It may be achievable and relevant, but we can’t tell without more specificity.
Good goal: “I want to grow my email list by 200 subscribers in the next 30 days.”
What makes this goal great?
- It’s specific. The target is 200 subscribers.
- It’s measurable. It’s super easy to track new subscribers in a
given period of time.
- It’s achievable. Capturing 200 subscribers is
- It’s relevant: Blogging and email marketing work hand-in-hand..
- It’s timely. There’s a deadline of 30 days.
I recommend setting monthly, quarterly and yearly goals. Some marketers set weekly goals, but
After each sprint, talk with your team about why you met or failed your goals. These conversations will produce insights to help you achieve future goals.
2. Research: Get to Know Your Target Audience
One of the first rules of content marketing (or any
That’s why the research phase is such an important part of any good content strategy. The information you collect will serve as the foundation for all of your content.
There are three important components to your research: Buyer personas, competitor analyses, and SEO research. Let’s unpack each one.
Buyer personas are documents that collect information about each
At Fluxe, our buyers personas are Ray (a service business owner) and Janine (an online coach). We refer to our personas before we create blog posts, emails, or lead magnets. They help us organize our messaging and offers so we appeal to the right people.
Building buyer personas is not about making assumptions. You’ll find quantitative information about your customers by monitoring their behavior through your analytics tools. You can get qualitative information through real interactions with them.
Don’t forget to update your personas as you learn more about your audience’s habits, preferences, triggers, etc.
It’s important to understand your competitor’s content strategy – not so you can copy it, but so you can improve on it. And not so you can
Here are a few ways studying your competition can help develop your content marketing strategy:
- You can learn which types of content perform well and which perform poorly.
- You can find opportunities to create content that doesn’t already exist.
- You can identify topics that perform well – and make them better.
- You can target sources of likely backlink opportunities.
- You can find potential content partnerships.
To get started with competitor analysis, first make a list of all of your main competitors. Start by listing the companies you know, then Google around for more.
Don’t just search for your product or service. Search for common topics a competitor would likely create content around. For instance, I would search for “content marketing guide” because my competitors are likely to have an article on that subject.
“Competing domains” shows you sites that compete with yours. “Competing pages” shows you pages that compete with the exact page you searched. And “content gap” shows keywords your competitors rank for that you don’t.
Once you have a list of competitors, browse their sites. Look for commonalities and patterns.
Do they use video or podcasts? Do they use any special language? Do they publish one type of content more than others or focus on a particular subject?
Browse their lead magnets and content upgrades, too. Do they push webinars or ebooks? Do they favor templates or worksheets? Are their content upgrades lengthy resources or one-page cheatsheets?
It’s also smart to sign up to their email lists and follow their social media profiles to get an inside look at how they communicate with their fans.
Next, drop each competitor’s URL into an SEO tool to examine the keywords they rank for.
For best results, sort by “position” to see what your competitors rank highest for. (The screenshot above doesn’t sort by position because the top results
Record any keywords that:
- Have low competition and high search volume.
- Relate directly to your customers and their problems.
- Refer to must-have content (content your customer expect you to have).
- Appear under-served (the top pages aren’t very good).
Always look out for long-tail keywords – phrases with three or more words. These are usually easier to rank for.
Just like your buyer personas, tweak your competitive analyses
Most of your keyword research will happen as you create each piece of content (never publish without targeting a keyword!) but it’s helpful to have some idea of the keyword space before you create.
Collect the high intent keywords you found during your competitor analysis, any keywords that came up when you made your buyer personas, and any keywords that relate to your website’s overall topic.
Put them in a spreadsheet along with their search volume (how many people search for that word each month) and difficulty (how tough it would be to rank for that term on a scale of one to 100).
As always, look for low-hanging fruit (easy wins) and under-served longtail keywords.
3. Build Your Content Roadmap
This is the fun part!
... At least it’s my favorite part. :)
Your Content Roadmap is the section of your strategy where content
Now, you have three decisions to make:
Which channels will you use?
What is your brand’s voice and tone?
What are your content topics?
A channel is how you publish and distribute your content. Will you write articles? Record podcasts? Design infographics and charts? Make videos?
But I would like you to revisit one question just for a moment now that you’ve completed your goals and research: Did you learn anything about your needs or your customers’ needs that could change the
Setting a brand voice is about being consistent throughout all of your marketing. It builds familiarity into your content so your fans latch on, feel comfortable, and return.
Think about how you want to come across to your audience. What words should describe your brand?
It’s useful to create a “THIS, but not THAT” list to capture the range of your voice. Here’s an excellent example from MailChimp’s style guide:
Refine your brand voice over time as you craft content and learn more about your customer.
Here’s where you
Next, consider your cornerstone content pieces. A cornerstone article is a comprehensive post on a broad topic. It’s the gateway piece into more niche content.
Here’s an example of a cornerstone article called “How to Get Consulting Clients.” Notice how it links to articles on relevant subtopics:
Create a cornerstone topic for each category. Then plan subtopics for their own pages.
Generating topics this way makes your life a lot easier. You don’t have to come up with random topics on the fly. Instead, consider your audience’s biggest problems and dive progressively deeper.
Finally, plan topics for your downloadable lead magnets. When you publish a post, you’ll embed an opt-in form (or a link to one) so the reader can subscribe to get the lead magnet. This is how you’ll convert readers into email list subscribers.
You want at least one lead magnet for each blog category. If one of your blog topics is especially important, consider crafting a content upgrade that’s specific to that topic.
The goal of a lead magnet is to attract prospects, teach them something valuable, and build credibility and trust. Your lead magnets should teach something specific and actionable in seven to nine minutes (no 30,000 word ebooks, please!).
Here are a few points to consider as you generate topics:
- Your SEO keywords - Start with low hanging fruit—high-intent, easy-to-rank-for keywords—that you can use to build momentum.
- The customer’s buying journey - Create content for your customers as their needs change. (Our buyer persona template clarifies this.)
- Quality and value - How can you boost your content’s credibility and create value?
- Your Competitors - How can you create content that differentiates you so you don’t become a me-too marketer?
- Shareability - Your content should make others want to share it on social media.
Once you plan a topic, dive back into your SEO tool to find the right keywords. Browse until you find something suitable. If you aren’t happy with your options, Google for similar pages and use your SEO tool to discover their keywords.
4. Production: Assemble Your Content Machine
Your production process is actually the easiest part of your content strategy, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it or manage it lazily.
By now you know what content will attract your customers and rank well on Google. Now it’s time to build to a workflow to produce it.
Step 1: Commit to a Schedule
How often should I publish? It’s the million-dollar question and one I get a few times a week. Here is the answer I always give:
Publish as often as you can consistently keep it up.
So, if you know you can publish consistently once a week, awesome! That’s a great place to start. If twice per week or twice per month sounds like more your speed, that’s great too!
If you can’t publish consistently you can’t stick with your strategy, so choose a publishing schedule you can commit to. (For the purpose of this example, we will stick with publishing once a week.)
Next, lay out the production steps for each piece of content and how they’ll fit into your regular workflow. Here’s a sample workflow you can start with:
- Monday: Writer submits a new draft.
- Tuesday: Editor reviews the draft.
- Wednesday: Manager reads and critiques.
- Thursday: Writer and editor make any changes.
- Friday: Assistant schedules draft, embeds the lead magnet, and schedules social media posts and the newsletter.
Depending on the type of content you produce, your workflow may be more complex. Video and podcast producers tend to run into more hurdles than blog writers.
Nevertheless, turn everything into a process so everyone (even if you’re doing all the content marketing yourself) understands the next step in the flow.
Step 2: Organize Your Tools
Next, think about what tools you need to produce content according to your schedule. What will you use to…
- Evaluate SEO keywords? (We recommend: Ahrefs, SEMRush, or SerpStat)
- Create images and videos? (We recommend: CloudApp, Loom, or Canva)
- Schedule social media posts? (We recommend: Buffer, CoSchedule, or HootSuite)
- Schedule newsletters? (We recommend: ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, or Drip)
- Organize your work? (We recommend: Trello, Asana, or Gather Content)
Once you have a list of tools for each step, decide whether you need to purchase a membership or if the free version will suffice. In many cases the free tier is suitable, but a paid tier can add efficiency and/or polish your content and process.
Step 3: Delegate the Work
If you have a team, delegate the work or hire new members. They don’t need to be marketers. You can delegate plenty of tasks to anyone who knows how to use a computer, like…
- Scheduling/posting social media snippets,
- Loading copy into your email marketing tool,
- Converting copy into lead magnets,
- Loading posts into WordPress,
- Proofreading and optimizing for SEO, and
- Countless other tasks, depending on the type of content you create and your process.
The writer is the toughest position to fill. A freelance writer usually isn’t enough. You need someone with content marketing skills to craft content that drives people to take action.
The biggest takeaway for this step is: If you are a business owner with a growing business, you should NOT be doing all this yourself. It’s not the best and highest use of your time, and there are plenty of other people who can do most of these tasks as good or better than you.
Step 4: Oversee the Process
Delegating the work doesn’t mean forgetting about it. I strongly recommend you stay involved in the content production process at two critical points. Remember this is the voice of your company and shouldn’t be handed off and forgotten!
First, contribute to the writer’s outlining stage.
This is a great opportunity to give the writer your unique perspective. Content is always stronger with stories, insights, data, and the weight of a thought leader’s experience.
Second, review the final product before it’s published.
Read every post, examine every image, listen to every podcast, and watch every video. This is your brand, after all. It’s important to make sure your team doesn’t publish anything inaccurate or damaging.
5. Plan Your Promotion Process
Unfortunately, you can’t rely solely on search engines to expose your audience to your content. You have to be more deliberate.
You must promote your content in the right places to get the biggest reach.
Build these four tasks into your process to promote your content as much as possible.
Step 1: Share via Social and Email Channels
Share every piece of content with your email list and social media followers. The social media sphere is noisy, so don’t be afraid to post often.
Step 2: Promote Within Your Own Organization
You can give new content a boost by promoting it from existing content. Go through your older pages to find opportunities to link to your newest post.
If you created something really valuable (like a cornerstone piece), make sure your entire company knows of it.
Use your content to develop a learning culture within your organization. This will increase productivity, fill skill gaps, decrease turnover, create a sense of ownership, and help your team adapt to change and solve new problems.
It’s smart to bring your entire organization into your content strategy. Have your team contribute to your content and promote it for you.
Step 3: Find Promotion Opportunities
The next step is to find off-site opportunities to promote your content to your target audience.
Start by contributing to places your audience hangs out, like community forums, Reddit subreddits, and Facebook and LinkedIn groups. You could also find and answer questions that relate to your niche on Quora.
REMINDER: There’s a fine line between being helpful and being blatantly self-promotional when using the sites above. If you come across as the latter, you can get banned or called out and it’ll have the opposite effect. Just remember to always start by adding tons of value before you promote, unlike this example:
Step 4: Reach out to Influencers
Next, identify influential people who might share your content to their followings. The best way to find influencers is through BuzzSumo.
Navigate to the “Influencers” tab and enter a keyword. BuzzSumo will create a list of people who share content around that keyword.
Collect the contact information of anyone who seems influential and likely to share your content. Reach out to them via email or Twitter
Don’t ask for shares outright. Instead, build relationships. Here are two great ways to get your foot in the door with new influencers:
- Mention them in your content, then let them know.
- Ask for their opinion/insight/quote before you create the content.
Repay your influencers as best you can with backlinks and your own social shares!
Step 5: Put Your Promotional Tasks Into a Process
Finally, create a post-publishing checklist of the promotional tasks I just listed.
6. Determine Your Success Metrics
How do you know if your content marketing strategy works?
The same way you know if any strategy works: You measure it!
Earlier, I told you that every goal should be measurable. You need
There are two types of metrics that determine success or failure: Outputs and outcomes.
Outputs are metrics that measure your production. They tell you if you’re sticking to your process. They keep you and your team on track.
Here are some output metrics worth tracking:
- Publishing schedule - Is your content published on time?
- Proofreading - Do you make silly mistakes or spend too much time editing?
- Deadlines - Does everyone on your team complete their tasks on time?
- Setup - Do you perform mechanical tasks (publishing, scheduling, etc.) without error?
- Project management - Does everyone follow the process and complete their steps?
- Content value - Is your content quality?
I’m sure you saw right away that those aren’t really metrics. Many of them are simple yes/no questions.
Make a note whenever there’s a mistake, like an email with a spelling error or a missed deadline. Review the mistakes monthly to find patterns you can fix.
While outputs are important, they’re only a small part of your content measurement. Outcomes are metrics that measure your results. They tell you if your work has achieved anything.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how many blog posts you wrote. It’s better to have one post that drove one hundred sales than one hundred posts that earned nothing.
These are some outcomes you might track:
- Page traffic (by source)
- Email sign-ups / lead magnet downloads
- Form submissions
- Webinar attendees
- Strategy sessions
- Sales (the big one!)
Try not to measure your outcomes in a vacuum. Look at them in context of your biggest goal (sales).
For example, you wouldn’t just measure email sign-ups from your lead magnets. That’s an important number, but there’s a bigger picture.
Instead, you’d look at: Do those subscribers become active fans? Do they open your emails and click your links? Do they download other lead magnets? Do some become customers?
If people grab your lead magnets and never interact with you again, that’s a sign that your content and offers need adjustments. But if you measured your success by that one metric (email sign-ups), you would never know.
Tracking your outcomes is simple, but it requires a few tools.
Google Analytics will tell you nearly everything you need to know about how your visitors use your website. Your email marketing tool (our favorites are ActiveCampaign, Drip and MailChimp) will tell you when people subscribed and from where. If you use a lead generation tool like Thrive or OptinMonster, you’ll gather more data on your sign-ups.
7. Always Be Optimizing
Optimization is a critical part of any content marketing strategy. You can optimize everything.
Look for ways to refine and improve your content. If something is working, double down on it. If something is clearly ineffective, abandon it.
For example, if you learn that your audience overwhelmingly prefers downloadable cheat sheets, make every lead magnet a cheat sheet. Give them exactly what they want.
Do lengthy “ultimate guides” perform best? Then quit writing thin articles. Target bigger topics and dive deep.
Your opt-in forms can be optimized, too. Test different styles, copy, and call to action buttons. Run A/B tests to determine the best performing calls to action.
But don’t forget what you’ve already created. Look at your existing content. How can you improve those pieces with your new knowledge? Instead of crafting something new, you could get a better return on your time by improving something old.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
Your strategy will serve as a clear guide for all of your content marketing efforts. It should tell you everything you need to create valuable and attractive content that'll make you proud and represent your brand well.
But let me give you one last piece of advice: Don’t shy away from experimentation.
If you get the urge to try something new, I encourage you to take the leap – but do it systematically. Set a goal,
Remember: Content marketing is still marketing. It needs an organized strategy to meet your business goals.
If you build a strategy with the components I’ve listed here, you’ll create a system that drives traffic, leads and sales.