How To Build a Content Strategy
We recently published an article all about content strategy – understanding your existing content, planning what content you want to create in the future, and developing an ecosystem and goals to support those. Now, here’s part two: a more detailed look at what a content strategy looks like.
This article outlines the various steps that you’ll need to take to build a cohesive content strategy, as well as some of the challenges you might encounter along the way.
Like any good project, there is a lot of requirements gathering involved with building a great content strategy. This stage can be divided into two parts:
- A content audit
- A needs audit
Here’s what that might look like.
The point of this step is to establish exactly where you are. Some of the questions you should answer are:
- What content do you have?
- What sort of results are you getting right now, and what sort of performance is each channel giving you?
- Where is all your content – digital advertising, email marketing, offline, ATL advertising?
- Is your content all up to date, or do large amounts of it need to be retired?
- What sort of content do you have in the works?
The point of this step is to truly take stock of what you’ve got. Many companies lack a firm idea of what assets they have (or don’t have), so it’s essential to establish that early on. One reason we do this first is that it prevents doubling efforts later on, as well as highlighting any glaring content holes.
Pro tip: A major challenge with content strategies is actually getting enough stuff out the door. A great way to mitigate this is to trawl through the archives and pull out something from before, either from another channel, another campaign, or just from ages ago. When you’re conducting your content audit, keep an eye out for pieces that might be good to reuse and stash them away for later.
A needs audit is a broad range of research and requirements gathering that we recommend before you progress further. This might include:
- User analysis (focus groups, user testing, surveys)
- Data driven persona creation
- Stakeholder consultations/meetings
- Competitor review
- Data/analytics review
Basically, the goal is to build a good idea of what your customer needs, and a good idea of your business objectives (e.g. stakeholder interviews). Obviously, conducting all five is best, but if that’s beyond your scope we recommend user analysis, stakeholder interviews, and competitor review. That way, you know what your users need, what your stakeholders require, and what everyone else is doing.
Out of this research, you can develop your goals for your content going forward, as well as how you’re going to achieve those goals.
At the end of pre-production, you should be able to build a clear picture of:
- What content you have, and what you need to build
- Who you’re going to target, and how (for example, what channels will work best)
- Both high-level and granular goals
- Major weaknesses that need to be addressed quickly
Production planning is when you plan out specifically how you’re going to produce the content you’ve recommended in your pre-production phase. For example, larger companies will probably hire both managers and communication staff to build and execute a content strategy, or hire an agency to do it for them. Smaller companies might hire a freelancer to produce their content for them. Even smaller ones might pass the creation responsibility around senior staff.
This is the point where you want to start thinking about the structure and workflow of your content production. Many a good strategy have been sunk by poor management systems. We recommend a robust CMS for virtually anyone generating content in volume, since it’s a great way to streamline the digital publishing process.
Some key areas to consider are:
- Your website content production workflow
- Email content – who owns it, who produces it, and how is it tracked
- Data privacy concerns
- Content hosted on third party websites
- Content edits and changes workflows
- How you manage comments
- What you’re going to measure for each channel, and what success looks like in reference to your more broad-stroke goals (e.g. measuring click throughs on emails as part of a broader goal of increasing website traffic and direct sales)
At the end of this stage, you want to have a good idea of how you’re going to produce the content you need in a very granular way. At this point, we also recommend you begin building your content calendar to give you an overview of how it’s going to actually look.
Production and management
Finally, production and management. This is when you actually begin building the content that you’ve researched so exhaustively. The key parts here are production, management, and tracking.
This is probably the easiest part in a lot of ways. If you’ve prepared with your staff and you’ve built a robust content calendar, then there should be no problems with production. The key is to hit the gaps that you identified in your content audit, and continually monitor what content does exceptionally well.
Management is all about creating the ecosystem that’s going to support your content goals. We recommend a content management system.
During management you’ll also want to set up regular touchpoints with senior stakeholders to ensure the content being produced is hitting the brand voice and values in the way it should.
Tracking and analysis
Of course, all of this is for naught if you don’t track your results. Make sure you’re tracking key data for each channel, as per your earlier goals and targets, and that those smaller KPIs feed into your overall content goals.
For example, say you’re a bank and you want to reduce your call centre traffic. You might build a more robust FAQ (the content) and measure the traffic to your FAQ pages as a function of call centre volume (the KPI), hopefully demonstrating a correlative relationship and telling you how effective your content was at achieving your goal. That’s the sort of clear targeting and clear data/goal relationship you need for each of your channels.
Rinse and repeat
Lastly, content strategy is an always-on project. There’s always an opportunity to tweak and iterate.
One way to do this is to find your weakest channel and do a mini-strategy for that one, looking at requirements, users, and competitors, planning, production, and management. Then find your next weakest, and so on.
Another approach is to do the whole thing as a review process in one large cyclical movement. This really depends on your own company’s requirements and constraints, so it’s about what works for you. As long as you’re always improving, you can’t go wrong.
- Requirements gathering is finding out what your audience needs and what key stakeholders want, as well as the state of your existing content
- Planning your production is essential, including how it’s going to be produced, deployed, and how (and what) data you’re going to capture.
- Managing your content as it is actually being produced and goes live, tracking those crucial KPIs, and feeding that information back into your big-picture goals is essential to know how well your plan is working.
- And, of course, there’s always room for improvement. Test, iterate, and improve on your content to really hone your content strategy.
Hopefully this will help you run long and successful content marketing efforts.