Online marketing continues to become more of a challenge. Long past are the days of inserting popular keywords into your website’s pages and building links for efficient search engine optimization. The fast burgeoning growth of Internet usage all over the world has made it so that people are no longer just using the World Wide Web to “look up things” on Google out of simple curiosity.
People are browsing e-commerce sites to buy media, electronics, clothes, food, etc. They make purchasing decisions by reading online reviews and participating in message board discussions. They voice their own opinions through blogs, podcasts and videos, and they share their opinions on various platforms of social media, reaching millions of other people instantly.
They also take the opinions of authoritative voices from authoritative domains into great consideration, sharing their ideas on their own networks not just for simple information dissemination but also as a way of self-identifying with the ideas.
People also have more freedom to connect with businesses. They expect to be able to reach companies to get the information and the support they demand. To the brands that win the consumers’ favor, they are rewarded with greater customer engagement and brand advocacy.
People are no longer simply looking to be informed. They want to smile. They want to laugh. They want to be disturbed. They want to cry. They want to be moved, and they want to share their experiences.
Keywords and links do not get people to buy, discuss, advocate, connect, share, or be moved. What does get people to do all those things is content. Content is what people look for online, and even Google knows it well enough to make it a deciding factor in what ranks high in their search engine’s results page. To create the caliber of content that both people and search engines will prioritize, a solid content strategy is required.
That is not to say that keywords and links have no role in the entire process. They still play the very important part of making the content more discoverable, especially in the eyes of search engines. You can still gain insights as to what content you can create by knowing what keywords your pages are ranking for. Your site’s link profile will still greatly benefit from having links from relevant and high authority websites.
That is why a content strategy is not just about content creation. Knowing where you need to place that content, when you need to publish, which segment of the market to target, and other related concerns are just as critical in developing your content strategy.
Identifying Your Identity
Before addressing the concerns of your target audience and the market in general, you need to focus on your business first – specifically your brand identity. In order to sell your products/services with confidence and to stand out amidst the competition, you need to know what your business is all about and what makes it unique.
Having a set of core values or a vision is therefore necessary, as they set the foundation for whatever content that you plan on building. All your blog posts, your white papers, your videos, and even down to your product copy should have a messaging that is derived from your brand’s vision and/or values.
How you deliver that content will also be drawn from those ideals in the form of your brand’s voice. Do you envision your business to have an image of professionalism? What about being the everyman’s go-to brand? Do your products appeal to a young fun-loving crowd? You need to be able to speak in a language that projects your business’ image to maintain brand consistency and to connect to your target audience.
By focusing on that one voice, consumers will eventually learn to recognize that voice as being unique. It also works to familiarize your brand with your target audience, as they realize that you can speak to their desires and their concerns, that you understand them. This creates a feeling of exclusivity, making them believe that you truly care for them and that you cater to their wishes.
Knowing Your Industry
Once you have a firm grasp on your business’ identity, you can shift your focus on the industry you are competing in and the people you are selling to.
For your target audience, you need to answer a number of essential questions. Who comprises the audience (demographics)? What topics interest them? What are their pain points that your product/service can address? Where do they congregate online? What are their main means of finding content on the Internet? Who do they look up to as authoritative figures in the industry?
Remember that it is those people who you will be creating content for. You will need a clear picture of what they want, how they want the content to be delivered, where you can deliver your content for maximum exposure, and to whom you can endorse your content to gain more credibility and reach more interested audiences.
Dive deep into the online communities where your target audience gathers such as enthusiast forums and blog networks. You will gain a more profound knowledge of their interests, pick up potential content ideas, and begin fostering insider relationships which you can then leverage later on for outreach and seeding published content.
Being aware of your competition is just as vital in developing your content strategy, as awareness lets you know how to position your brand’s messaging against that of your competitors’. How does the quality of your content stack up? What avenues (content-wise and market-wise) are your competitors exploring and ignoring? What relationships have your competitors built with their customers and industry-relevant websites? It also keeps you abreast of emerging trends both good and bad that face the industry at large, giving you information and time to adjust your strategy accordingly.
Assessing Your Current Content
It also pays to conduct a content inventory/content audit, the former being a quantitative tabulation of your website’s content assets and the latter being a qualitative measure of those assets. You can follow Portent’s in-depth guide in how to automate your content inventory to save you time and energy from manually organizing every piece of content on your site. Take down details such as page titles, URLs, content types, topics, keywords, categories, etc.
With your content arranged in a systematic order, you can then begin auditing. Besides reviewing the content for basic errors such as typos and grammatical oversights, you also have to consider how they align with your goals. How well does each piece of content conform to your brand’s voice and messaging? Is the content targeting the right people? What content can be discarded for irrelevancy, and what can still be updated? You also need to check for duplicate content, broken links, and content placed in the wrong pages, as these seemingly small technical problems can add up and ruin user experience despite having great content.
You can then match up the content to your site’s analytics tools to see how much traffic particular contents are receiving, where the traffic is coming from, how they are faring in social media, what keywords people are using to find the content, and how they are actually translating into revenue.
The insight you draw from where your content currently stands will help you in the future direction of your overall content strategy in specific ways.
You will get to know the purpose of your content:
- Strengthen brand awareness
- Improve social media engagement
- Drive up website traffic
- Boost on-site conversions (mailing list subscriptions/e-book downloads/video conference sign-ups, etc.)
- Increase sales
…and then be able to produce the right kind of content that will ultimately guide your target audience down your sales funnel.
Creating the Content
What many business owners new to developing focused content seem to think is that a blog is enough to drive an entire content strategy. A blog can definitely help and even be essential in a content strategy, but it is only an element in the grand scheme of things. It can be an instructive tool that also establishes your brand’s expertise because of the regular updates, but it is not a reliable platform for conversions.
You can also fall into the trap of writing blog posts just to adhere to an editorial calendar, lacking any clear sense of direction. Fresh content does not guarantee high rankings in search engine results pages, so churning out blog posts that offer little to no value to your readers simply to have content up on your site is a waste of time.
Another type of content that can be tempting to pour your efforts into is linkbait – content specifically designed to attract links. Like blogs, linkbait has its uses, specifically for driving up massive traffic once or twice because of the attention it can get. However, it is very difficult to capture the essence of “virality” one successful piece of linkbait has in yet another attempt, making it an unscalable and unsustainable tactic. You also need to remember that links are not the sole factor in determining the effectiveness of content.
Grounding the Content
There are many types of content that you can create and platforms to publish them on, but you should ground each piece of content around a small number of core topics. These should be the distilled principles that you want your brand to convey to consumers. Every blog post, infographic, video, white paper, etc. has to be spun off from those fundamental ideas and then build on each other for a strong unified and constantly reinforced message.
Remember that powerful content touches people, connecting to them in an emotional level that gets them to take action. It is in your shared mutual ideas that they find a reason to truly listen to what your content is telling them. Your target audience needs to feel that you identify with them.
However, you still need to make your ideals manifest through facts and solutions to be able to establish that connection. Consumers still require a value proposition that can be applied to benefit their lives. Provide real useful information in your content substantiated with statistics and case studies to enlighten your audience, and they will be more convinced to trust you and the products you are selling as they get to see your business as a credible resource.
Once you have a set of ideas to draw topics for content from, you need to start creating content suitable to every step of your sales funnel and plan their publication date in a content calendar.
Doing so lets you know how often you will need to create particular types of content (from simple blog posts to podcasts to in-depth e-books), holds you accountable for producing content consistently, and guides your target audience from brand awareness to engagement to sales.
Your job does not end once the content rolls out. It is imperative that you measure the results of each piece of content, and that means defining what your metrics are to prove that your content is successful. Check for an uptick in traffic, engagement, and conversions. Results for content are also not immediately self-evident, so you need to be patient before determining whether or not this one content failed or succeeded.
Accounting for the Future
Google’s latest algorithm update, Hummingbird, set out to improve the search engine’s understanding of long-tail queries phrased in more natural ways. This new change shows us Google making mobile search a higher priority, as those are the kinds of search terms people use on mobile devices. It is to Google’s favor that they understand the shifting nature of Internet usage, and the writing is on the wall with mobile devices set to surpass desktop computers for Web use by 2015.
The underlying structure of your content strategy should remain the same, but you must consider optimizing your content for mobile users. Check your analytics to see how big of a percentage of your site’s visitors are using mobile devices so you know how drastic a shift you need to make in developing content.
Content length will be a big factor. Short-form content will probably play more to mobile users, but you can set a compromise by presenting in-depth content in chunks or providing a sort of digestible version of your longer content. Video and audio content will also play a greater role, as these are the types of content that can be more easily consumed by people on the move.
Developing a solid content strategy will take a considerable amount of your time and resources, exhausting you and your marketing team’s creative and analytic energies. However, the demands of today’s increasingly competitive online landscape make all the effort that you put into building a long-lasting framework that can endure changes worth it.