An Actionable Definition of "Content Strategy"
While publishing more is almost always better than publishing less, it would be better not to publish randomly. For years, I fell into the trap of writing was Rochelle Moulton calls “a flea market of ideas.” The only overarching topic was “what Glenn is interested in this week.” Other times I’ve seen companies create content for content’s sake. For example, an agency that published “Fun Friday” blog posts. Typically dogs or funny hats were involved. While I’m sure they were good dogs, are these kinds of posts doing anything for their business?
When creating content, you want it to fit into a bigger picture. It would help if you had a content strategy.
But what does that mean exactly?
I don’t mean to sound like a middle school essay opening. “Webster’s dictionary defines content strategy as…” Here’s what I’ve got.
Content Strategy – (kon-tent strat-i-jee) (n.) – The processes and tools defined for creating, publishing, distribution, and measuring the effectiveness of content.
There is no “one” content strategy. I cannot hand you a content strategy off the shelf. Instead, it has to be something created bespoke for your goals and needs. No two companies will have the same content strategy. Content strategy can work at any level, from individuals who haven’t started creating content to companies who have created a ton without any rhyme or reason.
Content Strategy != Content Marketing Strategy
I want to make another point. “Content strategy” is not the same thing as “content marketing strategy.” I’m not a fan of the latter term. I find it more useful not to think of all content as “marketing.” For one, it makes the whole process feel less gross. Secondly, there is a lot of content that’s good that isn’t marketing. Consider the following examples:
- API Documentation
- Customer support & help desk documentation
- Transactional emails
- Microcopy within a software application
- Internal sales communication such as proposals and contracts
All of these are examples of “content,” but they don’t feel right under the traditional umbrella of “marketing.”
Starting At The Top: What’s The Goal of The Content?
With any strategic decision, it is essential to start with two questions:
- Who are we trying to serve?
- What problems are we trying to solve for them?
I’d ask this with any piece of content, and for the overall strategy. If you don’t know who you are writing for, you’re writing for no one. If your content isn’t providing value to someone, then what reason can it give for its existence? Once you’ve answered that, we can move on to defining the particular points of your strategy.
How Are You Going to Create Content?
I talk a lot about writing, but content doesn’t have to be writing. Content could be writing, audio, video, illustrations, animations, interactive experiences, and more. The format you choose depends on what you have the appetite for creating, where your strong suits lie, and what kind of content your market consumes. Pick a format where you have a strong fit. It will help you with consistency. Then, define your publishing process, which includes but is not limited to:
- How are you going to manage your backlog & content calendar?
- Who is going to create drafts, and with what frequency?
- What is your editing process?
- What kind of publishing cadence are you trying to maintain?
Once you’ve decided how you are going to create the content, you can start thinking about how you’re going to share it.
How Are You Going To Share The Content?
Where does your audience have conversations, and how can you be a part of them? Similar to creation, publishing sits at an intersection of your strengths, your constraints, and your audience’s preferences.
For example, I hear from people in higher-touch sales industries that LinkedIn is quite useful. Other audiences wouldn’t go near that place. Dribbble is excellent if you are a designer looking to impress other designers. Meet your audience where they are.
Your content should have a home for your content that you control and not rely strictly on 3rd party sources. Once you do that, you can decide where else you are going to share it, and how you are going to reach out to them. Some conventional means are:
- Social Media
- Direct Outreach
- Search Engine Optimization
- Content Syndication
…and many more. Get creative!
Content is not a game of “build it, and they will come.” Once you’ve written content, you need to do some work to share it before others will.
How Are You Going To Measure Its Effectiveness?
How will you know if a piece of content did its job? Before starting a piece of content, you set goals for it. It is also helpful to define how you are going to measure those goals.
Measuring the impact of content is difficult. As much as anyone would like it, there isn’t a straight through-line from content to money. Content may get readers, readers may become subscribers, and subscribers may become customers. Clear attribution is impossible in a funnel that complex.
There are also several vanity metrics available to further cloud discussions. Examples of these include visitor count, search engine rankings, and social media likes. All of these are indicators that your content is doing something, but not necessarily the right thing. There are plenty of ways to generate likes and clicks that don’t create any value. There is nothing in these metrics that measure good traffic vs. bad or meaningful engagement vs. pointless clicks. At best, these are proximate objectives. If you know that search engine traffic tends to affect more meaningful metrics (see below), then it is ok to measure, so long as it is not the primary goal.
Here are some examples of better content metrics:
- The number of meaningful interactions your content generates.
- Conversions toward the next step in the funnel. These steps could be signing up for an email list, or calling a number, or booking an initial consultation.
How to Create Your Content Strategy?
If you aren’t sure about where to get started with content strategy, you can use this as a guide to get started. Open up a Google Doc and start writing. Get clear on who you serve, and how. Then, start thinking about the next steps.
What content can you start writing?
Where will it live?
How will you get it in front of the right people?
How will you know it worked?
Remember that writing content strategy is like writing content: Your first attempt won’t be the best. Treat it as a draft and iterate as you learn.