Content counts: creating a content strategy in 8 steps

Content is king: in recent years, this buzz phrase has been the mantra of all the marketing execs in the know. And it hasn’t just sprung up from nowhere; marketers recognise that solid content lies at the very heart of a successful online marketing campaign. But there’s more to creating high-caliber content than meets the eye. Transforming promotional material into sophisticated content that engages with potential customers is a drawn-out process, during which producing and publishing the writing itself is only half the battle. Behind the glossy finished product lies a strategy that determines a campaign’s success or failure. To learn more about the objectives and advantages of a content strategy, check out our article on the basics of content marketing and read on to discover how to develop a strong content marketing strategy.

Putting the user first

When marketers say ‘content’, it refers to information that is conveyed to an audience, including text and visual media. But that’s not to say that content is just pure data; it should be high-quality, unique and specifically tailored to your target audience. This is of vital importance, as the core concept of content marketing is providing users (and therefore potential customers) with information or entertainment.

Content marketing is used as an alternative to traditional advertising methods, which attempt to sell products and services by advertising them directly. Content marketers, on the other hand, reach out to consumers in a less direct way; this is also known as inbound marketing. The key principle of this form of marketing is to build trust and achieve customer loyalty through conveying valuable information in helpful content written by experts. This method appeals to customers who purchase products after making an informed decision based on reviews and comparisons to other products. Communication therefore plays a central role, particularly when it comes to social media channels.

Developing a content strategy in 8 easy steps

Most companies know that relevant, high-quality content doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of careful planning. This planning is key for the long-term success of a communication concept. However, it’s still surprisingly common for business owners to overlook the topic of content marketing strategy, or forget to consider important factors, such as themes, subjects, and methods of distribution. In this feature, we reveal the steps that lie before anybody wishing to develop a content strategy for their web project.

Step 1: Brand positioning & content marketing goals

It is important to define your specific marketing and sales goals early, as these will ultimately define all later steps of your content strategy. Every single department in the company must be aware of these goals and work together to achieve them – marketing and sales always go hand in hand.

The brand positioning should provide the basis for the company’s goals. All marketers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What does the business stand for?
  • What is our USP?
  • What makes the brand unique?
  • What are the main benefits we offer our customers?

Brand positioning presents many diverse possibilities for framing your content marketing goals. For example, you could choose to place your focus on transparency and building trust, or expanding your target group. Whichever you choose, your goals should always be quantifiable, and current online marketing key figures can be used to measure them. If you’ve defined some precise KPIs to improve upon, it’s more likely that the marketing campaign will be successful in the future. Whether the goal is to increase conversions, clicks, or leads, business owners should always make their intentions clear from the beginning so they can refer to them when needed.

Typical content marketing goals include:

  • Branding (establishing the brand)
  • Linking (strengthening backlink profiles)
  • Increasing visibility
  • Conversions

Step 2: Target groups

The process of defining the specific audience that you want to reach with your campaign is closely tied to brand positioning and content marketing goals. However, it’s important not to define the audience by socio-demographic data, but consider the individual user as a partner in a dialogue. Marketing experts talk about ‘personas’, fictitious people with distinguishing qualities based on real data collected. These buyer personas are representative of your potential readers, whom your content should be geared towards.

The appropriate data can be obtained from analysis tools like Google Analytics, and there’s also valuable information in the social web. Furthermore, social listening allows business owners to discover more about the target group’s characteristics and interests.

Relevant questions include:

  • What kind of content does the target audience share?
  • Where do they spend most of their time online?
  • What is the best way to reach out to them?

Ideally, after a comprehensive analysis, business owners should not only know whom their target audience consists of, but also where and how they can be reached. This will improve the success rate of all the following steps. 

Step 3: Content inventory & audit

Before analysing themes for future content, business owners should first carry out an inventory of any existing content. This content inventory can be used to gain a structured oversight of content. Business owners can then perform a content audit in order to check the quality of the collected texts.

In determining the current level of your content, you can distinguish between:

  • High-quality content that you can keep
  • Outdated or superfluous content that does not stick to the plan
  • Potentially good content that you can optimise

It’s useful to monitor your social media platforms to see which posts attract the most comments, clicks, and shares (or stir up what’s known as social buzz). These posts can then be used as a model or starting point. In being pro-active in checking and evaluating the status quo of existing content, determining which posts need optimising, and which need to be replaced, business owners can save a lot of time.

Step 4: Researching and selecting themes

Brand positioning and content audits give business owners an insight into which themes the company should work with in order to produce valuable content. The next step involves finding and researching these themes; to do this, it’s important to take into account the environment of the brand, the products, and the business. The search behaviour of the potential target group is an important factor in identifying these themes.

Tools such as Google Analytics allow users to carry out keyword research. It can provide a tangible indication of possible themes for your content strategy.

Other sources of inspiration for discovering themes include:

  • Social media
  • Specialist magazines and/or journals
  • RSS feeds
  • News alerts
  • Internal themes

Step 5: Analysing the competition

Evaluating the successes and failures or your competitors can provide a particularly valuable indication of your own potential strengths and weaknesses, and is particularly worthwhile when content planning. This is how you can gain an insight of your sector environment and find out which businesses deal with similar topics, and how. You can then answer the following questions:

  • What formats do our competitors use?
  • Which of their channels are the most popular?
  • Which content marketing strategies do they use?

In doing this, business owners can find a gap in the market to fill and ascertain valuable information about the market situation; this regards themes as well as communication channels. With this information, business owners can generate new, fresh themes and innovative formats to stand out from the crowd.

The most important work has now been done; now you just have to compare the different results. Having examined your target audience’s search behaviour and the products and services your competitors have on offer, you can begin to identify themes to use as a company. These must be consistent with the brand positioning, so that the resulting content is credible. Remember, the long-term potential of your themes is key. You need to ensure that you regularly deliver content that will stand the test of time.

Step 6: Editorial plan

All the factors mentioned in the previous point merge during the editorial planning stage. This step is often the biggest challenge for marketers, as this is where many different factors and the information gathered from various sources all come together. A solid editorial plan will not only include the results of the keyword analysis and structured research but also the careful identification of trends and influencers. What do members of the target audience talk about? What is the buyer persona interested in? These questions play a central role in choosing the right content format, as satisfying your target audience is key to having a successful content marketing campaign. Depending on your business, objectives, and, above all, target group, there’s a great number of possibilities for creating engaging content – from providing background information, to how-to articles, to video tutorials or photo series.

Your editorial plan should include all the previous factors, including:

  • Content audit
  • Keyword analysis
  • Competition analysis
  • Social signals/social buzz
  • Current trends

Step 7: Content production and publishing

Now that the planning phase is over, it’s time to move on to content production and distribution. The biggest challenge for many businesses is figuring out how to produce a lot of high-quality content while adhering to a strict schedule. It’s therefore necessary to clarify which resources you have at your disposal to see if external help is required. Under certain circumstances, it can be useful to relegate certain tasks to external companies or agencies – not only for texts, but for multimedia content too.

Your content must ultimately satisfy several requirements. It must be:

  • unique
  • tailored for the target audienc
  • as entertaining as possible while remaining informative
  • user-friendly, clear and free of errors
  • optimised for search engines

With search engine optimisation (SEO) and content marketing being so closely linked, the last point is of vital importance for the success of your content marketing strategy (see below).

Now you’ve started producing your original, optimised content, it’s time to focus on publishing and distributing your content. The platforms you use should depend on the target audience or buyer persona. Remember this and adjust your content accordingly. Many factors come into play here, especially with the social web assuming a huge role in the publication process. Community and crisis management are important and are coordinated as part of the distribution process. Find out more about social media management.

Step 8: Controlling

Publishing fresh content regularly may be the main aim of a content strategy, but don’t start resting on your laurels; one of your content marketing goals should be the constant maintenance of your published content. Only those who monitor their progress can optimise their content. You should monitor your strategy based on your pre-defined KPIs. With this rigorous controlling, your strategy will gradually change over time, but this is natural. Your plan should be flexible enough to adapt to new technology and marketing methods and the ever-changing needs of your target audience. As a marketer, you must learn to find the balance between focusing on the target group without losing sight of your corporate goals.

Side note: content and SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO), and content marketing are closely linked. If your goals include being as high up as possible in the search engine results pages (SERPs), then you should already have optimised your website for search engines. As well as the technical and structural factors required for a good ranking, a website’s content also plays a decisive role.

Keywords are an especially important aspect of creating content. Creating search engine optimised content used to mean fitting as many keywords as possible in a single piece of text. However, this inevitably meant that the quality and readability of the text suffered, as the content was written primarily for search engines, not for readers. This practice, which is known as keyword stuffing, is now penalised. Those who want to get the top spot in the SERPs need to generate high-quality, relevant pieces of text.

Website content needs to be of sufficient length and quality. A set keyword density can be advantageous, but the keywords themselves must be inserted into the text subtly, so that it sounds natural. For example, you can also use terms that are related semantically to your keyword. High-quality content also forms the basis for many important SEO factors. If an article is ranked highly, it will receive more clicks, likes, and shares. These signals also increase your chance of achieving a good place on the SERPs – and it all starts with the right content strategy.

Content strategies: a necessary task

Developing a content marketing strategy is among the most important aspects of planning your marketing campaign. While it may be time consuming, it’s a task that is unavoidable if you want your company to be successful. With regular controlling and monitoring, you can even measure this success. Developing a content strategy for a web project is a constant process; each stage is constantly changing and developing, and the final product is never perfect. Business owners should therefore always keep the most important factors in mind: objectives for the company’s success, brand positioning, and, above all, the target audience.