Website Content Strategy: Process and Deliverables
When I talk about web content strategy around the water cooler at work, everyone stares at me as if I’m speaking in tongues. While it has informally existed since the Web went public, content strategy is still considered an emerging practice. Few online businesses commit enough time and resources to content strategy, and that’s unfortunate because a content strategy can help a company grow by effectively communicating and engaging customers and prospects.
The goal of this post is to show you step-by-step how you can create and build a content strategy for your company or your clients. But first, let’s be clear about what content strategy is.
“…a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project, from very early tasks such as analyzing and classifying readers to the very last tasks, such as planning for the ongoing content maintenance after the project launches.”
Pulling generously from the authors and books mentioned above, I have mapped out my own content strategy process from start to finish. I’m not advocating that my process is 100 percent perfect for every campaign, but it is a good launching point for you to use and adapt to your own clients and websites.
What is Content Strategy?
Content Strategy is a dynamic plan for producing and publishing innovative information that helps to build authority, expertise, and solid relationships with your ideal customer. C’est la vie. Content strategy is about asking yourself as a marketer how you can build customer loyalty, community, and how you can help yourself become a recognized thought leader in your field.
Research is arguably the most important step to any content strategy worth its salt – making sure all the proper research is completed will help exponentially in aligning your future content. Research will help dial in your efforts, and may even inspire your content creators.
The first step of beginning to understand anything is to research and read about its origins, strengths, and weaknesses. When it comes to a good documented website content strategy, you really can’t go too far without taking a good hard look in the mirror. As marketers, it’s epically important to thoroughly investigate our current state of mind. How have we done things in the past? What’s worked? What’s failed miserably?
Third, turn your gaze upon the product, or service at hand. Ask yourself who uses it – who benefits from its existence? Why do they enjoy the product? How can you help more people to see that they too – shown the right content – can benefit from it as well?
In the research stage, it’s very important to first set some goals before you start typing, filming, recording, or rolling out some combination of content. Every piece of content you create should adhere to these goals – business and content marketing goals. You may be interested in doing one or more of the following:
What do these goals have in common? They have absolutely nothing to do with metrics that DO NOT matter to your business – likes and retweets, for example. These goals are equally geared towards increasing quality marketing metrics to assess content effectiveness, or increasing revenue via a successful content marketing campaign. They’re all measurable! Along with your goal setting initiative, strategize how you will monitor and keep tabs on your incoming results. These analytics will help you to refine and tailor your strategy down the line by tweaking and/or removing aspects of your strategy to help generate the results you really want.
Now that you’ve found your groove and you’ve established some goals and the perfect target audience, it’s time to begin picking through your bag of tricks to see what types of content are going to work best for your qualified market. Ask yourself what kinds of content they’ve responded favorably to? (This is where the research stage come in handy).
Maybe you’ve found that videos and blog posts are the perfect content form for a buyer persona that primarily uses a home computer or tablet – meanwhile your ideal mobile users engage with zesty and powerful social media content like photography and info-graphics.
Remember, the role of content is always to boost traffic back to your website. Content is the bread and butter of any professional content marketing plan, and therefore, it rarely a simple open and shut ordeal – you’ll need to encompass a couple different types of content to keep your efforts looking fresh. They’ll also need to be capable of building authority and trust. In short, content near the top of the sales funnel needs to wow your audience; this content is responsible for educating and engaging prospects, encouraging them to dig deeper. Towards the bottom of the sales funnel, your content needs to answer very specific questions that your sales qualified leads may have, and should alleviate any hesitations they could have in dealing with your company.
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Without some editorial or content backbone helping you to release and deliver your content and nurture your prospects interest, you run the risk of losing them to information and content creators that are more diligent and reliable in their approach. Part and parcel to consistency is a feeling of resourcefulness – when you fail to consistently release content, your readers will simply look elsewhere to get their fix.
An editorial calendar is key to making sure you’re on top of your release dates, and your creation schedule as well. It’s an incredible resource to have in your corner because it helps to streamline and normalize a prescribed workflow. As a sound content strategy, editorial calendars help your published work to engage and interest your readers – and keep them interested until they are in a position to make a purchase.
This delivery and distribution of content should also be a big part of your initial research wherein you lay out a framework for connecting your content to targeted prospects and readers.
Recall when we discussed your goals for a great content strategy? This is your chance to interpret and gauge how well your content strategy is faring on the web – and specifically – how well your targeted audience is responding to your content. Key to this process is matching your metrics to your goals, and one of the largest problems that many marketers have these days is messing up this puzzle. Social shares and likes are not important enough to waste your time with – they just aren’t worthy of being measured in this metric.
What Does It Take to Build a Working Website Content Strategy? 7 Elements You Must Not Skip
1. Know Your Content Strategy Basics & Goals (Build a Foundation)
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
2. Research, Identify, and Get to Know Your Audience
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.
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).
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.
“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:
The Essential Website Content Strategy Assets + Corresponding Tools You Need to Succeed
1. 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.
2. Calls-to-Action (CTAs)
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.
3. Web Pages
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.
4. Lead Magnets and Ebooks
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.)
5. Emails and the Email List
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.