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Each week on the Content Marketing World blog, we’re going to feature a CMWorld 2020 speaker, one of their blog posts that dives into the topic they’ll be covering at CMWorld, and a few additional articles they’ve written to help you prepare for their session.
Today, we’re keeping the series rolling with Julia McCoy, a brilliant mind in search optimized content creation. She built her business from the ground up, has written countless times for the CMI blog, and continues to give back to our community. We hope you enjoy this post from Julia:
Spinning business growth out of content marketing is achievable, but not for everyone. 🤷♀️
What’s the necessary ingredient missing from all of these failure scenarios?
A website content marketing strategy. In other words, a plan that guides your execution of content.
A plan ensures commitment and excellence in content marketing. It also maps out direct paths to growth for your brand.
People who don’t commit to a website content strategy, who keep thinking they can game the system or cheat their way to success, will never find what they’re looking for.
Instead, the future of the web belongs to smart, strategic content hackers who create content with a growth mindset.
It’s not just about growing your business either. It’s also about:
And, yes: A website content strategy helps you achieve ALL of that. 💯
That’s exactly what we’re discussing today:
If you’re ready to learn, dive in with me! Your content strategy template is right here. ✅
What Does it Take to Build a Working Website Content Strategy? 7 Elements You Must Not Skip
The Essential Website Content Strategy Assets + Corresponding Tools You Need to Succeed
If you plan to publish content of any kind on your website – blogs, videos, guides, case studies, etc. – you need a plan.
Think about it. You wouldn’t approach any other major task – work or otherwise – without a plan. So why wouldn’t your website content have one, too?
Overwhelmingly, carefully planning and strategizing works 100% better than flying by the seat of your pants or counting on luck. You don’t need any stats or data to know that’s true, either. You probably have plenty of evidence from your own experience to back that up.
How many times, when you approached any task with a solid plan, did you succeed? How many times, when you relied on luck alone, did you fail?
A plan makes a GIANT difference, no matter what we’re talking about.
Why Do You Need a Website Content Strategy?
You need a website content strategy because it’s proven to work better than having no strategy at all.
Let’s bring some stats into the equation. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, & Trends Report, 69% of the most successful marketers report having a content strategy in place.
In the report itself, CMI specifically mentions this: “Our annual research consistently shows that a documented strategy is often a key indicator of content marketing success.”
Furthermore, content marketing tasks associated with strategy are ones successful marketers do:
Publishing/posting content with a strategy in place WILL boost your efforts overall. You’ll have firm direction, including:
When we lay it all on the table like this, the answer to the overarching question is obvious:
Why build a website content strategy?
Why NOT build one? 🤔Why have a content strategy? 1) Your audience understanding and connection will deepen 🤝 2) You'll encourage a move-the-needle mindset ⏲ 3) You'll create a clear path to GROWTH for your website and business ⚡ More on @content_hackers 🏆 Click To Tweet
It’s time to build.
A website content strategy needs each of the following elements to work. Leave out one, or skimp on some of the details, and none of it will work.
For content strategy to turn your content marketing into a mighty tool, you must do your homework. Let’s start on the ground floor and work our way up.
Consider this your content strategy flowchart. 📋
1. Know Your Content Strategy Basics & Goals (Build a Foundation)
First things, first. Do you know WHY you want to do content marketing and WHAT you hope to achieve with it? You should. 👇
A. Decide on a Few Goals (or KPIs)
You shouldn’t do content marketing without a few goals in mind right off the bat. What do you hope to achieve with content? These objectives should drive your entire content marketing strategy.
Do you want to increase awareness around your brand? Get more traffic and leads? Increase revenue?
These broader goals can be considered in terms of KPIs (key performance indicators). KPIs can be tracked and measured, and indicate growth toward your goals. Here are some common KPIs in content marketing:
B. Define Your Content Differentiation Factor
Once you know your goals, you need to define your Content Differentiation Factor, or CDF.
When you push “publish” on those blogs and articles, what will differentiate them from the millions of other content pieces already out there? What will differentiate them from content published within your industry, by your competitors?
In other words, what will separate you from the pack?
The answer is your unique perspective.
More than likely, there are already TONS of blogs out there similar to yours. They cover the same topics and the same questions. What will set yours apart is how you help your audience differently thanks to your unique perspective in your industry:
Once you add up all these elements and think about them in terms of how they position you to help the customer as no one else can, your CDF should come into focus.
C. Outline Your Topic Area(s)
We’ve come to one of the biggest questions to answer in your digital content marketing strategy:
What are you going to write about?
This isn’t as easy to answer as it sounds.
Pulling random topics out of a hat and writing content about them will never lead to ROI.
Instead, you need to write about topics connected to:
I call this your topic area – the place where your expertise + what your audience wants from content align.
Note that your topic area should be a broad subject with many, many facets. For example, the topic area of “selling running shoes” has tons of related sub-topics: Training, hydration, running events, warm-up exercises, and more.
(YOU may be an expert on running shoes, but your audience wants to hear about tons of other topics related to running. What your audience wants is always more important. We’ll talk more about discovering and paying close attention to your audience’s needs in the next section.)
Lastly, if the sub-topic you want to write about doesn’t fit into one of the major topic areas you defined in your content strategy, you shouldn’t write about it. It simply won’t be relevant to your brand, to your audience, or to what you sell.
Example: You want to write about the health concerns connected to wearing high-heels constantly. (Your topic area is “selling running shoes.”)
Nope. That’s totally unrelated – scrap that idea. It has nothing to do with running or running shoes.
Make sense? As you can see, the point of defining topic areas is to ensure your blog always stays relevant to your readers, who are coming to you for specific information. Stay inside your wheelhouse for the most cohesive, consistent blog presence your audience will come to rely on.
My FREE, 60-minute masterclass is a great resource on all things content strategy. It includes guidance on finding your CDF, outlining your topic areas for content marketing, and more. Sign up right here.
ALL of the pieces of a digital content strategy we’re covering are important, but this one is doubly so.
Successful content marketing hinges around knowing and understanding who you’re writing to. Without that knowledge, you’ll miss the mark, and your content will bring crickets rather than customers.Successful content marketing hinges around knowing and understanding who you're writing to. – @JuliaEMcCoy 📝✔ Click to Tweet Click To Tweet
A. Do Audience Research
First up: audience research. It’s all about discovering who will be interested in your content (and by extension, your products or services).
Who needs what you have to offer? Who’s looking for a solution exactly like yours? This is what audience research works to uncover.
Common audience research methods:
My favorite method for audience intel is conversations – informal, off-the-cuff, casual exchanges. You can have these everywhere, at any time, as long as you stay engaged with your industry and community:
In fact, you probably are having valuable conversations every single day that can help you learn more about your audience – you just need to listen actively and take notes on what you learn.
Speaking of notes 📝: Don’t let those conversations pass without taking physical notes on them in a place you can reference later. I recommend keeping a Google Doc with this information (or a note in Evernote, or in your phone’s native notes app – wherever you can access that info easily).You probably are having valuable conversations every single day that can help you learn more about your audience ‼ – you just need to listen actively and take notes on what you learn. 👂📝 #contentstrategy Click to Tweet Click To Tweet
B. Identify Them with Personas
After you gather audience intel (and, by the way, this is a continuous process – never stop doing audience research, because your audience is not a static entity) – it’s time to take that information and turn it into a tool that will help with content creation.
Enter the audience persona.
“Persona” is just a fancy word for a tool you’ll use to better imagine your ideal audience member. Usually, a persona consists of an information sheet packed with details about this imaginary person.
Actually, a persona is a lot like a character card, like the ones you see in card games and video games. These include a picture of the character, their name, and some details about them that help you get to know them. For example, some versions of the game Clue come with character cards giving you greater depth and details about each suspect:
A persona is similar, but all the details come from research and represent an actual slice of your audience. In fact, a great way to think of a persona is to imagine taking a chunk of your audience and merging them into one person – who would that person be?
Common information to include in your audience personas:
One of the best things about audience personas: After you complete them, they become a tool anyone who touches your content can use. (Think writers, social media marketers, editors, branding experts, etc.) Personas are super-easy to update with new information as it rolls in, too.
Keep these in your website content strategy toolkit and refer to them often.
The value of SEO lies in its ability to bring IN leads and customers without having to push your message OUT to the masses. Inbound marketing is truly something magical. ✨
However, you don’t want to bring in just any traffic. You want qualified traffic coming to your website – people who want what you offer, need the answers you provide, or are interested in the topics you cover. The way to target them with SEO is to consider their search intent.
A. Understand User Search Intent and How to Target It
Search intent describes the goal behind the user’s search when they type keywords into Google.
More often than not, they’re conducting an internet search because they need or want something: Information, answers, a specific product, a website URL, etc. Here are the various kinds of search intent via Backlinko:
For the best SEO, the trick is to find keywords that reflect the user search intent that points to your business. Then, you need to target those keywords in your content.
B. Learn to Do Keyword Research
Keyword research is all about discovering the best keywords to use in your content – the ones you have a high probability of ranking for, and the ones your audience is actively searching.
Usually, the right keywords are both long-tail (AKA have at least 3-5 words in a phrase) and low-competition(they score low on a keyword difficulty [KD] rating of 1-100, with 1 being the easiest to rank for and 100 being impossible). They also MUST be relevant to your business, products, or services. I call this the keyword sweet spot.
How to do initial keyword research:
Keep in mind, this is a simple intro to keyword research. For more depth on this topic, I teach an intensive online course, The Practical Content Strategy & Marketing Course, that will give you the tools to become a keyword research machine. ⚡
By now, a few pillars of your digital content strategy are in place. It’s time to set up another biggie by answering this question:
Where will you build your authority online? Where will be your “home” on the web?
Fittingly, I call this part establishing your content house. 🏡
This is your web address where you will build authority. Ideally, it should be a domain you own exclusively. This is the place where you will focus on publishing most of your content. It’s what your website content strategy will focus on, too.
A. Building Your Content House – Why You Need a Domain
Why shouldn’t you build your online authority on, say, your Twitter or Instagram account? Why not on Facebook, or on a free website hosted by Wix, Weebly, or even WordPress?
Because all of these locations are proprietary. That means you don’t fully own any of the content you post there. If one of these platforms suddenly decided tomorrow to shut down, you would lose everything you built – all of your content, all of your followers, and all of your authority.
That’s why you need to purchase your own domain and hosting. It needs to be under your complete control, not at the whim of some faceless company.
B. Why All Roads Should Lead Back to Your Content House
On top of owning your platform, all outside roads should point back to your content house, too. That includes:
Your domain/content house is the focus because, as long as you invest in upkeep, it will always be there. On the other hand, those proprietary platforms have no guarantees attached to them.
Social media platforms come and go, but only your owned domain has the unique ability to remain a center of gravity for your brand and business.Social media platforms come and go, but only your owned domain has the unique ability to remain a center of gravity for your brand and business. 🌟#contentstrategy Click to Tweet Click To Tweet
Yep, at this point, it’s time to start thinking about how to build your content.
Randomly writing blog posts and publishing them at whim is not a strategy. Instead, you need a content creation workflow, one you can reuse over and over that saves time and simplifies the process.
Luckily, you already have a great foundation laid out thanks to the previous content strategy steps.
A. Start with Keywords to Find Topics
Pull up that list of keywords you researched in step #3. This is one of the best places to begin content creation.
Why? Those keywords can easily turn into topics your audience is searching on Google and would LOVE to read about. You already know they’ll work, because the research is done.
For each keyword on your list, brainstorm a handful of potential content topics. Writing around a focus keyword ensures your content is super-relevant for that keyword, and thus a higher chance of ranking.
A few ways to find content topics using keywords:
Of course, there are other ways to come up with content topics, but starting with keywords gives you a good leg up on positioning your content to rank in Google. If that’s one of your main content marketing goals, definitely start there.
B. Use My 3-Bucket Topic Strategy to Map Content Topics to Goals
Once you have some content topics in hand, you can’t start writing yet. First, I highly recommend mapping your content topics to the goals you outlined in step #1.
Your goals might look different, but for my content marketing, my main goals are to build brand awareness, sales & connections, and SEO rankings. To move closer to each goal, I need to be creating specific types of content:
Before I move on to writing a piece of content around a topic I brainstormed, it must pass muster. Will it fit into one of my “content buckets”? Will that content piece help me reach my goals? If it doesn’t, I trash it. I call this process my “3-bucket topic strategy.”
For example, say one of the topics I came up with was a guide on how to find the best cross country running shoes (pulling from that keyword I found earlier, “cross country running”). This topic will land in my SEO rankings bucket, so I can move on to creating that content piece.
This process is one of the major keys to making your content marketing profitable and ROI-worthy. Don’t skip it.
C. Remember ICP – Ideation, Creation, Preparation
Any good content creation workflow is made up of three basic stages: Ideation, Creation, and Preparation.
Ideation is the part when you brainstorm content topics and research whether they’ll land with your audience. Ideation can begin with keyword research, from questions you see over and over from your audience/customers, from topic research on Google, and other sources.
Creation is the nitty-gritty part. This is where you take a topic you matched to your goals and start researching, outlining, drafting, writing, and editing.
Preparation is the stage where you have a completed content piece (written, edited, and optimized) ready to be published and shared.
During this stage, you’ll schedule your post to publish at an ideal time (ideally using an editorial calendar like Airtable – more on that later). You’ll also think about where you can share your new post (on social media, via email, etc.) and how you want to do it.
D. The Benefits of Content Creation Workflows
As you can tell, the content creation workflow can get pretty detailed. If you don’t map out the steps as part of your content strategy, you’ll quickly lose yourself in the process and feel overwhelmed.
That’s why it’s so useful to have a set, repeatable workflow you can use over and over – whenever you ideate, create, and prepare content for publishing.
Sample content creation workflow with tasks and team roles via CMI
Document all the steps you use to ideate, create, and prepare content for the world. Refer to them often, and share them with anyone who joins your creative team. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information on the whys and hows of content workflows, this post from CoSchedule is a great resource: How to Develop Clear Content Marketing Workflows to Execute Better Work.
E. How Strategic Guest Blogging Fits into Content Creation
The final piece of content creation we need to talk about is guest blogging.
Guest blogging is a KEY way to build your authority and clout in your industry.
Don’t get me wrong – blogging on your own site should still be your main focus. That said, guest blogging once every few weeks (or once a month, or every other month) regularly will help build your reputation by leaps and bounds.
For instance, I regularly guest-blog on publications like Search Engine Journal, Content Marketing Institute, and Marketing Profs.
My guest blogging presence on Search Engine Journal.
However, you must have a strategy for this.
Document these rules for guest blogging in your website content strategy and follow them every time you consider a guest blogging opportunity:
When it comes time to write content for a guest blog, use the same workflows you established for your main website content. Only submit the same type of amazing, high-quality content you would publish on your platform. Lots of guest blogging opportunities are sure to follow!Guest-blogging should be an integral piece of your #contentstrategy 💞 – but you need rules and workflows to make it work. Learn more on @JuliaEMcCoy's new @content_hackers guide 📚 Click to Tweet Click To Tweet
The last pieces of your website content strategy to finalize include setting up your budget, tracking and measuring, and promotion.
A. Figure Out What Content Marketing Will Cost, Then Set a Budget
Your investment in content marketing depends on who you hire to help out, which tools you use, and your ground-floor investment in website hosting.
Common content marketing costs:
Figure out how much you need to spend to have everything you need. Then, look at how much money you actually have to work with.
Content Marketing Institute includes some valuable stats about budgets in their yearly report. For example, in 2019, 36% of all respondents said they spend less than $100,000/year on content marketing. Meanwhile, the average budget for small companies was $81,500/year.
B. Promote Your Content
SEO will help draw more traffic to your content, but it’s not the only way. You can also physically promote it to make sure as many people see it as possible.
Methods of content promotion:
You don’t have to use every method – you just need to use the ones that work best for your business, audience, and budget. For more on content promotion strategies, Buffer has a great guide that includes 11 tactics.
In general, make sure you document your chosen promotion/distribution methods in your website content strategy. Create a social media content strategy template. Follow the same procedure for every post and content piece.
Your content marketing won’t stay alive unless you maintain it. Going forward, to keep it thriving and healthy, you’ll need to continually check-in.
A. Commit to Tracking and Measuring Your Progress
Without tracking and measurement, you won’t have a clear idea of how far you’ve come with content marketing, or how far you still need to go to hit your goals.
Speaking of goals, that’s where you should start when figuring out what to track and measure. Return to the goals you outlined in step #1, and if you haven’t determined any connected KPIs (key performance indicators) yet, now is the time.
Once you know what you’ll be measuring (KPIs like organic traffic, engagement metrics, comments, social shares, etc.) you can determine the tools you’ll need to use to get that data in your hands.
Finally, make a plan to track those progress indicators regularly, over time.
B. Do Periodic Content Audits
Another part of maintaining your content strategy is keeping tabs on your existing, published content.
If your content is optimized and promoted well, then it will keep drawing traffic and leads in the background as you publish new pieces. That means, if the old content is outdated, irrelevant, or low-quality, your passive content marketing will suffer.
As such, create a schedule to audit your old content regularly. Check for:
Remember: Google loves fresh content. Updating those old pieces may potentially give them a rankings boost!
C. Revisit the Strategy Regularly and Reassess
Change is inevitable. As the internet changes, as your goals shift and your audience widens, your content strategy will need to change, too.
Your strategy should never sit in a forgotten desktop folder or dusty drawer somewhere. Instead, you should reference it constantly. It should be a living, breathing document that guides your content marketing every day.
It’s not set in stone, either. If something isn’t working, make changes. Review, reassess, and revise.
After all, this is your content strategy. If you want it to be great, it’s entirely in your hands.
If a major part of content strategy calls for scheduling and publishing posts strategically (it does), you need a solid content calendar.
A content calendar will not only track your posting schedule, but also your content creation workflow. At a glance, it should tell you what phase of creation a piece is in, who’s working on what, which pieces are finished and scheduled for publication, and more.
I always recommend Airtable as a wonderful content calendar tool. It keeps my Write Blog content schedule organized to the hilt:
There’s a secret ingredient you can add to any web page, blog post, or content piece to make it more profitable. It’s a little tool called a CTA.
The call-to-action does exactly what it says: It calls your reader to a specific action. It encourages them to DO something after they have read your content.
Surprisingly and often magically, the CTA turns committed readers into email subscribers, followers, or even customers.
Great content without a CTA somewhere in it is a missed opportunity. That’s because readers WANT to take action after reading incredible content. You’ve wowed them, informed them, entertained them, guided them… or all four of those things. They’re excited! They’re fans!
Without a CTA, providing a way to act, they’ll be left in the dust with all that positive energy and nowhere to put it. It’ll fizzle, and they’ll click away from the page. That means you’ll lose.
The point is, you need to include CTAs on your web pages and blog posts to capture those excited readers.
Need examples? The homepage of Content Hacker is full of CTAs. Case in point:
Learn to create compelling CTAs – recommended reading:
Did you know your web pages have the power to pull your visitors deeper into your orbit? A good web page can incite curiosity and entice your reader to stick around.
What makes a good web page? Two elements:
Put together a well-designed, well-written web page PLUS a great CTA and you have a formula for conversion – the point when a person who was merely browsing turns into a bonafide fan of your business, or even a customer.
Here’s an example of an effective web page from Canva, which explains their infographic maker:
Learn to write & create awesome web pages – recommended reading:
Another way to nail conversions? Two words: lead magnets.
A lead magnet is a desirable piece of content that contains a bit more depth than your average blog post. It’s usually longer, for one, may contain custom illustrations, and includes information not found elsewhere on your website.
Lead magnets can be long or short. As long as they’re valuable pieces of content, length doesn’t matter. (Ebooks can be lead magnets, for instance. So can short tip sheets and cheat sheets.)
As such, a lead magnet is great to offer your readers as a bonus in exchange for their email address. A well-put together lead magnet can work wonders for pulling in subscribers.
Here’s an example of a lead magnet we offer on Express Writers:
Last but not least, emails are one of the BEST ways to keep your audience up-to-date on your newest blog posts and content.
As long as you use the list-building tactics and tools described above, building a list of email subscribers is pretty straightforward. And, once you build that list, suddenly you have a direct line to your audience, like they’re all on speed-dial.
One of the easiest ways to use email as a tool for your website content strategy is to send a message to your subscribers whenever you update your blog. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, either. Just a friendly message + a link to your new content with a short summary is enough.
It’s a major tool to stay connected with your people. (Pssst… I use ConvertKit for emails, too.)
Here’s a simple example of an email promoting a new blog post:
How to write emails and built your list – recommended reading:
This post originally appeared on the Content Hacker Blog
Looking for even more from Julia? Check out these three blog posts that will help you dive deeper into the science of memorable content and prepare you for her CMWorld workshop:
Register today for Content Marketing World 2020, where you’ll hear from Julia McCoy and 150+ other incredible content marketing leaders. Use SPEAKER100 to save $100 off your pass!