The 3-Part Guide to an Effective Content Strategy
Let’s say you have two identical businesses with identical products and services, but only one has a content strategy. One regularly posts to their blog. The other does not.
Take a quick guess. Who will prospects buy from the most?
Of course, you guessed correctly.
When you help someone with valuable information, you build trust and forge a relationship. This is the crux of any business’s “content strategy”. The reality is without a focused strategy to deliver high-quality content to your readers, your business is likely operating at a significant disadvantage.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, “96% of the most successful content marketers agree their audience views their organization as a credible and trusted resource.” (Source: CMI).
But is this the right approach for you?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Do I Really Need a B2B Content Strategy?
If you are a business with an online presence, the answer is most likely yes.
There are three components to your content strategy:
1. ATTRACT new leads
2. ENGAGE your prospects
3. CONVERT them into customers
This is especially important if you are involved with providing your customers any of the following:
- Big data (analytics, machine learning, digital decisioning)
- Subscription-based products and services (SaaS, B2B services)
- eCommerce (selling physical products online)
- Digital marketing (information products, ebooks, online courses)
- Consulting (fitness, nutrition, entrepreneurial)
- Any business whose customers have high lifetime value
These types of businesses benefit from educating their customers on topics related to their products and services, whether they are in B2B or B2C. Doing so builds trust with their customer base, and this especially helps subscription-based companies reduce churn rate.
However, there are some types of businesses where the benefit of content marketing is less obvious.
For example, locally based businesses that get most of their customers through in their town or city, or though local SEO, may not need a full-fledged content strategy as much as the other aforementioned examples.
One notable exception, though, could be a local tourism business whose customers can come from anywhere in the world.
But Why Create Content? What Is the Value of It?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to attach an exact dollar figure to your content. At least, one that’s not so precise as to say “if we create X blog posts in one year, we will earn $Y more.”
Admittedly, the value of content is highly subjective. But here’s the crucial point you need to understand.
Content has a real and tangible benefit in not only getting more traffic, leads, and revenue, but also building long-term customer relationships and creating brand awareness.
[bctt tweet=”Content has a real and tangible benefit in not only getting more traffic, leads, and revenue, but also building long-term customer relationships and creating brand awareness.”]
In short, a content marketing strategy helps you:
- Create brand awareness
- Boost credibility
- Gain trust
In the B2B world, content helps you get the executive buy-in you need to close lucrative deals.
Put another way, content strategy is a long game:
Creating valuable content and distributing it to a clearly defined audience drives profitable revenue.
[bctt tweet=”Creating valuable content and distributing it to a clearly defined audience drives profitable revenue.”]
So you want to come up with a content strategy for your business. Do you just open a Word doc and start typing?
Not so fast.
That is the quickest way to go astray and abandon your content creation after a month or two when you run out of ideas.
First, you need to lay the groundwork before you even write one blog post.
PART 1: Laying the Groundwork for Your Strategy
The foundation of your content strategy is to educate your readership on the topics within your business expertise. Don’t just use your content to sell your readers like many businesses do—not only is this short-sighted, but also the quickest way to alienate your readers.
Separate from your sales material such as landing pages and marketing funnels, your content should have its own purpose. Ideally, that purpose would be to inspire people to better their lives, to provoke thought, to educate, or to grow an engaged community.
The CMI shows that “90% of top-performing B2B content marketers put audience’s informational needs first.”
When deciding on an overarching purpose of your content marketing strategy, the message is clear:
Whatever you do, put your audience first!
Defining Your Audience
Your audience has a set of problems they need to solve. Therefore, your content should be built to answer their questions and help them in their efforts. The more closely their problems are aligned to the solution you are selling, the more likely you will attract the right audience for your business. However, their problems don’t have to be the exact same problems your business solves, but they should ideally be closely related.
Although your target audience can be the same as your direct buyers, you don’t necessarily have to limit your target audience that narrowly. You can cast a broader net than that.
For example, let’s say your customers consist largely of B2B executives or owners of small businesses. There is always a chance that someone who doesn’t quite fit your customer profile passes it on to someone who does. People share stuff they like on social media. People pass links to interesting articles to friends and family all the time, saying “thought you might find this interesting.” You just might get new customers in this way, whereas otherwise they might not have found you.
To define your audience, you have two tasks:
1. Define your target reader
2. Define your set of core problems
So let’s get to it.
Who Are You Writing To?
To define exactly who you are writing to for your content strategy, think of your readers as individuals whose problems are preventing them from reaching their goals. Your content strategy needs to be built around the following concept:
Give the sword to the hero to help him slay the dragon.
Your reader is the hero.
The dragon is the problem.
Your solution that you are selling is the sword that helps the hero (customer) slay the dragon (problem).
Don’t make the mistake of positioning your business as “the hero”.
Many businesses and entrepreneurs have based their content strategies on themselves being the hero, and as a result, their readers have complained that the content came off as condescending or patronizing.
Anyhow, use these seven overarching questions to get to know your target audience and what makes them tick:
1. What are their goals and aspirations?
2. What problems are they having? How do their problems relate to your business?
3. How can you solve their problems?
4. How do they make their buying decisions?
5. Where do they hang out online and offline? Do they have LinkedIn?
6. Who does your audience trust?
7. What kinds of emotions or ideas would be best to convey to this audience?
The last question is probably the most important, because we make key purchasing decisions using emotion, then use logic to rationalize the decision afterward. If you understand what drives the emotions of your target reader, you can use this in your content strategy while showing them how they can solve their problems.
After thinking through these questions and writing down your answers in detail, it is now time to define a set of core problems that your readers need to solve using your products and services.
What Are The Core Problems You Are Solving?
Here’s the truth that nobody wants to admit. Most content strategies fail because they are meandering and unfocused. In other words, many blogs jump around between random and unrelated topics.
[bctt tweet=”Here’s the truth that nobody wants to admit. Most content strategies fail because they are meandering and unfocused. In other words, many blogs jump around between random and unrelated topics.”]
Don’t make the mistake that many others make:
Writing about one problem and then never talking about it again.
You can approach the same core problem through multiple angles, and therefore create multiple posts addressing the same problem in different ways. This is a great way to build authority on solving that problem.
Your content marketing strategy needs to be disciplined while addressing a set of core problems that your prospects want to solve.
This means neatly dividing your content in categories, keeping your content relevant within each category, and properly planning the next topics to write about next.
Using your definition of the target reader and their problems or pain points, look for common themes and distill them into 3-5 core problems that are connected with your product and service. Your blog, resource content center (or “resources page”), social media, and email series campaigns should all work in concert to help your readers learn how to solve these core problems.
Your core problems need to be easily recognizable and well-defined, but also broad enough to support dozens of content pieces so you don’t run out of ideas prematurely.
[bctt tweet=”Your core problems need to be easily recognizable and well-defined, but also broad enough to support dozens of content pieces so you don’t run out of ideas prematurely.”]
You should be able to group several topics together into a few recognizable core problems and provide actionable advice for each. However, don’t just brag about your victories. Do share stories about your mistakes as “lessons learned” pieces—your readers are likely to perceive them as more authentic, credible, and relatable than pieces that just tell about your victories.
Now, here is where I’m going to take a contrarian stance from 95% of other content marketers:
Forget about SEO.
At least, don’t overthink it.
Sure, you can use some keyword tools that are invaluable for brainstorming topic ideas.
You can also look under “people also ask” for any search query you enter. You’ll get tons of blog title ideas! Don’t forget to look at the autocomplete suggestions on google’s search bar for some ideas, either.
These little tools are great for brainstorming some ideas, but don’t obsess over specific keywords because—as was made clear in the June 2019 algorithm update—Google is smart enough to infer the searcher’s intent.
Instead, focus on QUALITY of content over keywords.
When you have 3-5 core problems already outlined, you are now ready to build out a content plan covering the next several months to a year in advance.
PART 2: Planning Your Content Marketing Strategy
The most important thing when planning and executing your content marketing strategy is FOCUS. This is where most people fail in their content marketing, as their unfocused blogs give readers the impression that the content is “all over the place”.
Without a FOCUSED content strategy, your content campaign is highly unlikely to succeed.
Categorizing and planning your content around the core problems you are solving is the best way to maintain focus in your strategy. Plus, by connecting your services and products to the core problems, you will attract the right attention your site.
Five Characteristics That Make Up a Successful Content Piece
According to the Content Marketing Institute, there are four main traits of successful content:
And I would also add a fifth, but very important trait:
When writing content that meets these five traits, here are some good guidelines to follow:
☞ Be engaging. Do not ask for something from the reader before you prove your value.
☞ Deliver content regularly and reliably over time, using a content calendar or schedule.
☞ Build on previously published content to make it more comprehensive and evergreen.
☞ Your content should be based on information or feedback the visitor has willingly given.
☞ Avoid regurgitating the same stuff lest you write “me too” content that doesn’t stand out.
Don’t forget to tell your unique stories about your company and how your business came to be today. There is so much noise and people’s brains have been wired to tune everything out that isn’t fully relevant to their lives. However, storytelling is the best way to cut through all that noise.
When telling stories, don’t be afraid to share your own beliefs, perspectives, and insights. Take a contrarian and controversial stance on an idea. Ask yourself—what are most people in your industry doing wrong, and how do you want to change it?
How to Structure Your Content
The best approach from a user experience perspective (as well as search engines) is to organize your content into “silos”. Limiting one blog category (or silo) to one core problem helps with consistent messaging, keeps your content well organized, and makes it easy to measure content performance.
Each “silo” should be centered around one “cornerstone” article, an in-depth and well-researched article with evergreen content spanning beyond 2k words up to 5k words in length.
Feel free to use the skyscraper method to create a cornerstone article for each core problem. This method talks about looking at an in-depth piece that already performs well for a particular keyword… and then one-up that by writing an even better piece yourself.
Around each cornerstone article, you should create at least a dozen blog posts with attention-getting headlines that attract readers, engages qualified leads, and ultimately, converts them into customers or clients.
For your internal linking strategy, each blog post or content piece should link to closely related content within each core problem.
Every content piece around a core problem should also link back to cornerstone content. Keep in mind that with the recent 2019 algorithm update, Google wants to see relevant content that actually answers the searcher’s intent.
We find that the 33/33/33 ATTRACT – ENGAGE – CONVERT framework works well for just about every business, every entrepreneur, and every blogger.
One third (33%) of your content should be geared to attract readers to you, one third (33%) to engage them, and one third (33%) to convert them into loyal customers.
Keep the 33/33/33 framework in mind when brainstorming your content ideas and article titles.
We know it’s not easy to brainstorm new ideas.
It’s very easy to get stuck staring at a blank screen. We’ve found a few ways to speed up the brainstorming process that worked well for us personally:
1. Ask your audience!
Bounce ideas off your existing audience using tweets, surveys, and social media posts, and see what the response is. If get a lot of positive responses, add it to your content ideas. This is one excellent way to engage with your audience. Engagement is not just about increasing traffic, but also getting to know your audience on a personal level.
2. Collect ideas from question-based queries
Use long-tail keyword tools (like AnswerThePublic) and Google itself to collect title ideas, especially question-based search queries. You can even use Quora to collect questions and ideas for answering them.
3. Capitalize on past successes
Build on what worked before, either for your own content or for your competitors’ content—or even both. One way to do this is to update your best performing content with the latest information and add new images. Content that had performed poorly in the past can also be repurposed into different media like videos, podcasts, infographics, etc.
Which brings me to my next point. Your content strategy does not only have to be all blog post after blog post on a rigid schedule. You could create different types of content to reach your audience in three ways: text, audio, and visual.
You could create all kinds of useful stuff wherever your imagination takes you.
Examples of engaging and informative content that provides value:
- DIY guides
- Resource PDFs (case studies, white papers, industry reports, etc.)
- Social media posts
- Interviews with industry influencers
- Gated content
- Actionable lead magnets
You may use enticing lead magnets that help your readers achieve quick wins to build an email list, and then engage your list with an email series. In your email series, you could also suggest more content for them to read.
Once you gain their trust, it is time to make an offer.
If you have an eCommerce business, your offer could be a tripwire with a nominal price, or an upsell or cross-sell. If you provide B2B services, your offer could be a bundled package of your core services.
The point here is your content strategy needs to have a clear path towards increasing audience engagement.
Setting Content Goals and Measuring Your Progress
Your content strategy will go nowhere unless you set specific long-term goals and short-term milestones. Your goals should be ambitious, but also realistic and measurable.
It is most ideal to first set a broad overarching goal, and then break it down into smaller milestones. These milestones will help measure your progress towards your goal, rather than trying to achieve your goal all at once.
You could set inbound marketing goals such as getting more high-quality leads for your business or getting more organic traffic by ranking on certain keywords.
A few examples:
- Increase traffic by 12% each month
- Increase opt-in rates to 8% on lead magnets
- Convert 10% of email subscribers to paying customers
You may also have more intangible goals such as “boosting engagement” or “increasing brand recognition” that are harder to measure than traffic and lead generation.
The most important thing to do before you create a single piece of content is to decide what metrics and milestones you will use to track your content performance. This all depends on your content goals that we went over in the previous section.
You also need to set some publishing milestones to help progress towards your content marketing goals.
First, the obvious—how often will you publish content?
Daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly?
Second, you also need to think about when your content will be published.
Using a content calendar or social media scheduler will help you keep hitting those milestones.
Third, where will you publish your content?
The “Resources” page on your company website? Medium blog? LinkedIn? Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest? This also depends on where your target market hangs out on the Internet.
Finally, who will create your content and write the articles? You may either hire and train a team of content creators yourself, or hire a professional agency best suited to this type of engagement.
PART 3: Execution
Create an Editorial Calendar
To keep yourself from going astray, you need to keep your content organized with an editorial calendar. With an editorial calendar, you would be better able to plan content around major product launches, conferences, company events, and even holidays. Any topic ideas you or your writers come up with, even ones that pop into your head once you wake up from a good night’s sleep, can be entered right into the editorial calendar with a future date.
It doesn’t matter which tool you use as long as you stick with it and maintain a consistent system for staying on track. As you expand your content strategy, managing your editorial calendar becomes more complicated when tracking multiple pieces of content, knowing what has been published and what has not, and assigning content ideas to writers or designers. For that reason, an editorial calendar becomes essential when you hire a content team or outsource it to an agency (though a professional content agency should be able to create one for you).
But if you prefer to DIY, you can use Trello, Coschedule, or other content calendar tools for this. Even old fashioned Google Sheets does the job.
Create Content for Each Core Problem
With your content plan and editorial calendar solidly in place, you now simply need to create the content. At least you won’t get writer’s block after all the groundwork you’ve done. However, for large content campaigns with ambitious goals, it is highly recommended that you assemble a team of writers, or hire an agency with expertise in your industry to handle this on your behalf.
Content creation is mostly about content writing, but to make your content stand out, you should also design for readability using best UX practices to build trust with your audience (i.e. no annoying popups or pushy upsells).
Writers and designers can work together to create aesthetically-pleasing lead magnets to grow email lists using squeeze pages. Some good examples of lead magnets include checklists, cheat sheets, and templates. The key to useful lead magnets that grows your email list is that they should be short. They should also help your readers get quick wins by applying actionable advice. Longer and more valuable gated content (including swipe files, courses, ebooks, reports, and webinars) can also be used as tripwires within your sales funnel as you nurture your prospects towards your main offer.
If you have any old content that isn’t performing to the level that you hoped for, you can repurpose it into different assets, or even create visuals like infographics and slideshares. You can “give away” repurposed content for free to boost engagement and bring repeat traffic to your website.
Promote Through Multiple Channels and Influencer Outreach
Once you get your content published, don’t let it just sit there. After all the work you’ve done to get there, it would be a waste if you didn’t promote your content!
Remember where your target market hangs out online?
Find a way to promote your content in those places. The more relevant your content to your target audience, the more it will resonate with your readers.
With social media, the platform on which you promote your content depends on your target market and the type of content. For video content, Youtube is the big dog. For graphics and visuals, Instagram and Pinterest would be most suitable as long as a sizeable portion of your target audience is active on those platforms. For B2B content, LinkedIn would be best.
Note: Be careful about using automation tools to distribute content on LinkedIn. After a slap on the wrist, they will ask you to upgrade to a commercial account or in the worst case, suspend your account indefinitely.
Don’t forget to build relationships with influencers in your industry. Getting influencers to promote your content for you is like pouring gasoline on a fire. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. The wrong way would be to spam your list of influencers begging them for a link back.
The right way would be to build warm relationships with them by engaging them on social media, getting to know them, and allowing them to get to know you. Only then you could ask to guest post for them, or to collaborate on high-quality content with them. You could even include an influencer outreach plan within your broader content strategy that outlines how often you would collaborate with other content creators, and how often you contribute guest content to influencers in similar fields. Writing guest content and contributions to influencers is the best way to form relationships with them. Once these relationships are formed, they will provide your content strategy with the rocket fuel it needs.
One question you might be begging to ask:
Should I promote my company in the content I write?
As a rule, no. Almost all of your content should be educational and helpful to your readers without going overboard on the sales pitch.
You can, however, sneak some promotional material in there without turning off your readers by following the 80/20 rule. As long as you keep it 80% informative and educational, and 20% promotional, you won’t come off as a pushy used car salesman to your target market.
Do keep in mind that you are usually better off saving your promotional content for campaign-specific landing pages, social media ads, and bottom-of-the-funnel content pieces like case studies or sales pages.
And one last thing, don’t freak out if you see other blogs copying your content. Keep in mind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that if you’ve done your strategy and SEO correctly, they will not get the same results as you would get.