If you work in digital, it’s pretty likely you’re doing content – whether it’s blogs to help boost your search visibility, straplines for social media ads, or figuring out what to say on the service pages you add to the information architecture of your website. The cliché is that content is king, but maybe a better way of thinking about it is that content is everywhere.
Because there is so much need for content across every digital channel, it can often be something that ends up getting done without anyone taking the time to think about the overarching principles that hold all of your content together.
What we’re talking about is content strategy; the structure that holds all your content together and keeps it working towards a single goal, telling a coherent story. But how do you approach creating that structure? And what are the artefacts that support it?
In this article, learn about the building blocks of content strategy, the questions you should be asking yourself, and the kinds of assets we can create to answer those questions and then share with the wider business.
What are your goals and how does content contribute?
The first step on this journey is to think about what you are trying to achieve, both on your website and in the wider digital space. What are the key metrics you are looking to drive with your digital activity?
Your thinking should start at the sharp end of the funnel, considering the conversions that drive value into your business. Working back from there, you can plot the goals and metrics you track along that funnel and start to think about how content plays into those moments.
For example, if you are driving leads into a sales funnel, there are considerations around the content that sits at that conversion point.
As you track back, you may also have a nurture funnel to bring colder leads into that sales funnel. What kind of content supports or incentivises that softer conversion?
Further up the journey, how do users first interact with the website? What type of content does the job of opening the door to new prospects? That may go beyond the website itself and out onto social media – to the content you share there or to the content you seed with influencers.
As you plot these conversion points and broader goals, you may notice that there isn’t always content that supports them. That’s ok – you’re already starting to identify gaps that you may look to resolve later.
Who is your target audience(s)?
Understanding who your users are, rather than who you think they are (or who you want them to be, if your current userbase is misaligned with your target audience), is the other part of this initial puzzle.
Knowing who you are trying to reach is a vital part of your content strategy for the simple reason that those are the people who will be consuming the content you create.
Building a clear view of who your audience is will help to inform:
- The types of content you produce
- The frequency of content publication
- The channels used to push that content out
However, audience understanding goes beyond informing the mediums of your content – it should also inform the topics and the tone of what you create. Understanding your audience means understanding their challenges, their pain points. It means knowing what it is about your offering that is most likely to resonate with them, and therefore knowing what you should focus on in the stories you’re telling.
If there are audience profiles from other marketing activities, or personas from a user experience-led process, these can act as a great starting point for this kind of understanding.
One of the artefacts we often create during a content strategy process is a messaging framework – a breakdown of the key marketing messages we want to deliver to each audience, what the supporting assets and evidence are that we can present, and some examples of what that might look like in mocked-up assets. This then equips future content creators with a clear picture of what’s required.
What’s the current state of your content?
Knowing what we want to achieve and who we’re trying to connect with gives us the groundwork, now we need to understand what we’re building from.
If you’re thinking about content strategy, it’s likely you have an idea of where you stand. While your gut instinct has value, it’s important to either support that or challenge it with an objective view.
When we’re assessing the current state of content, whether that’s across an entire site or looking specifically at a set of digital marketing assets, we look to run a content audit. That can take many different shapes, but at it’s heart it’s about looking at the metrics against each piece of content, setting benchmarks, and then grading each piece of content against those benchmarks.
This gives a clear picture of not only the volume of performance, e.g., how much of our content is doing well against the benchmarks we set, but also the distribution. Are certain areas of the website outperforming others? Are certain types of assets lagging significantly behind the rest?
It’s vital this kind of assessment is done, as it allows you to develop your thinking beyond your initial feelings about the content that you currently have.
That said, content is more than just its performance numbers. Content is emotional, it’s part of your brand story, and it’s a key component of how your customers will experience your organisation. So don’t completely disregard your personal opinion – but temper or supplement it with what your data is telling you.
What do you want the future state of content to look like?
To start to define the future state of content, we take everything we’ve talked about so far – that means:
- What you know about your goals and the role content can play across the funnel
- Your understanding of the target market
- An understanding of your current content and how it’s performing
At this stage, there is no one size fits all answer. What happens next depends on those inputs and on your appetite for change.
Some example outcomes could include:
- You are missing content at key points in the conversion journey, so need to create assets that plug those gaps.
- You are producing the right mediums of content for your audience but need to better answer their challenges and pain points.
- The vast majority of your content is underperforming, so there’s a need to consolidate, amend and improve both your content and the way users find it.
- You have quality, high-performing assets but they aren’t fit for purpose for all the channels you’d like to be present on.
The reality may be a combination of those, or it may be something else entirely – the key is to identify where you want to be, with an understanding of how that differs from where you are now.
One way we tend to define this is with a set of pillars or principles – statements that capture the key components of that future.
Examples of content principles based on the above four possible outcomes would be:
“Content will exist and provide value for users at all stages of their journey.”
“Focus on answering the pain points identified in the latest personas.”
“Align content topics with SEO priorities to ensure increased traffic to content.”
“Long-form assets will be re-purposed into infographics and short-form video for use on social media.
Defining the steps to close the gap
Now you have an understanding of where you want to get to, you can look back at the current state of your content. The gap between the statements you can make about what you want the content to be like in the future and what you’ve seen in the content audit gives us a clear picture of what needs to be done.
This is when you can start to build out a content plan. The words ‘content plan’ conjures a list of assets that need to be created, and while that might be part of what needs to happen for you to take steps toward your future state, you also shouldn’t be limited by this perception.
There may be more research that needs to be done, you may need to make changes to your tone of voice guidelines or to the structure of the areas of the site that house your content. The actual assets are a vital part of creating a successful content strategy, but they don’t stand on their own – ensuring the supporting architecture is fit for purpose is also important.
Start building your content strategy
Your content strategy should be a reaction to all of the inputs discussed above. Ultimately, the outcome needs to be unique to your situation, the challenges you are facing, and the reality of what’s achievable with the resources you have available.
That’s why there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ or ‘off the shelf’ answer to content strategy.
If you’re looking to develop your organisation’s content strategy, whether you’re starting from scratch with research or are looking to iterate from an existing set of personas and brand guidelines, we’d love to help.