Developing a Content Strategy

content-marketing-strategyWhen users are researching a problem, a search engine will often elevate an article, a knowledge base page, or a forum page to the top of the listings. Blog posts and sales pages may get indexed, but often reviews or forum posts get a bigger piece of the visibility puzzle. There are many third-party forum sites that get more traffic than official company websites.

Remember that content marketing is all about garnering the most eyeballs.

Once the eyeballs are attracted, creating a connection with constructive content is what counts.

To create a cohesive content marketing plan, start by looking at the existing reference materials your organization already has. What are the most frequently asked questions (FAQs)? What materials do users use to solve their problems faster? Engage the people who have direct contact with the user base (usually the customer service teams), then start to assemble lists of questions and procedures that help clients solve problems. If content ideas are still coming up small, ask users what their problems are. Your sales force is another great source for user questions.

For existing websites, use analytics to figure out what terms visitors are using to fi nd your website. Make a list of the top searched phrases or the phrases that you would like your organization to be found around, then create more content around those keywords. If you don’t have an existing website, do a search for the Google Keyword Tool (or use your favorite keyword research tool) to fi nd relevant keywords and phrases in your topic area. Be sure to check out your competitors’ keywords as well. If you see that one of the competition’s offerings is getting a lot of traffic, then create content that compares your product to theirs. Such comparison pages usually rank very highly because users will frequently search for “Product A vs. Product B.” Do a search query like “Quicken vs. Microsoft Money” and see what kind of results appear.

Content creation, as part of an effective online marketing strategy, connects to the hearts, minds, and wallets of the users, helping them research and make decisions faster. Create a repeatable process to think about ways to help educate and empower prospects. Some organizations assign a content manager to make sure that all of the content that is created is part of the overall online marketing strategy. Too many companies produce huge volumes of content without looking at strategy. Content that supports strategy converts, making the time, effort, and costs pay back.

Content That Website Owners or Marketing Professionals Can Create

To get started, first focus on content that an organization can create itself.

Most organizations already have a lot of content that can be repurposed into new formats. In many cases people within the organization who don’t think of themselves as “in marketing” have created useful information that could be used for content marketing.

To get the biggest bang for your content buck, figure out how much of your existing material can be reused. Make a spreadsheet with the original content item on the left and all the categories (from the list below) that it might be converted to along the top row.

Content marketing can take the following forms:

– Blogs

– Online press releases

– Articles

– Product/service descriptions

– Technical support

– User guides/technical manuals

– White papers

– Case studies

– E-books

– FAQs

– Tutorials

– Videos

– Podcasts

– Reference materials (from a simple glossary to a full encyclopedia on your topic)

– Printable items (procedure checklists, guides, recipes, flash cards, posters, etc.)

– Diagnostic questionnaire (designed to help the user solve a problem)

– Help desk or knowledge base

– Q&A advice

– Demonstrations on how your product/service works with a third-party product/service

– Company news

– Deals/coupons

– Online store

– Calendar

– Online utilities (online mortgage or retirement calculators, calorie counters, etc.)

– Software downloads

– Games

– Music

– Your commercials (Believe it or not, this can be a huge draw.)

– Twitter feeds and other social media updates

– Activism tools (tools that will allow users to promote your message)

– Industry news aggregating (an automatic feed of the latest headlines in the topic area)

– Lists of outside blogs, industries, or resources that users might fi nd useful

Notice that almost all of the items on the list require action on the part of the website owner. While this may seem like a lot of work, the payoffs of repurposing content in multiple channels can be huge. The marketing rule of “Tell them, tell them what you told them, and tell them one more time” helps diversify the online marketing portfolio, giving more opportunities to capture awareness and create connections. Don’t know how to prioritize which items to add? Ask your audience. A simple survey on the home page asking each user’s preferences is a simple way to start. Also, review analytics to see what repurposing options yield the most traffic and conversions. Allocate time and effort where it will count.

Use the Magazine Model of Content Development

One way to plan content strategy is to think like an editor-in-chief of a magazine covering your topic area. What are the monthly departments? What are the features? What are the advice columns? Think about your audience in the life cycles within your topic area. Then start creating content to serve inquiring minds what they want to know. Brainstorming about each of these segments in your user base’s life cycle will generate lots of areas for you to explore.

Think about creating multiple content strategies. What does a first-time visitor to your site need to know versus a returning visitor? If you have different audience segments, you might direct them via e-mail offerings or pay-per-click ads to individualized landing pages and content. Think about the decision trees each segment must go through to reach their (and hopefully your) desired goal.

For example, a youth sports line might offer one type of information for the child and another type for the parent. What information do you give to the foot soldier and what information do you give to the general? In some cases you will have to arm the foot soldier with information for him or her to advocate to the general.

Don’t reinvent the wheel: if there is a third party who has good content and who is a potential partner, see if you can acquire some of their content for your site. Often, content creators are thrilled to have the additional web exposure and would be happy to share as long as they are credited properly and have links back to their website.

Content creation needs to have success criteria attached to the effort. Define quantifiable goals. If the desired action (buying the product, writing the senator, filling out a content form, etc.) occurred, or at least moved the visitor further down the sales funnel, it can be measured with analytics. Build content strategy around goals and define how the content makes progress toward them.

Feel free to test content. (It’s a good idea to have an ad hoc focus group run through your site anyway.) Measure what types of content or call to action messaging get more eyeballs and/or convert better.

Remember that relevant, helpful, quality converted content (not spammy puffery) is what makes sales. Content needs to perform a service for the user.

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