Here’s a blatant reality many well-meaning digital marketers are unaware of:
Content alone will do nothing to improve your marketing results.
Pushing out content with no direction, no strategy, no purpose, no goals, and no targeted audience will just end up wasting time and money – even if your content is beyond incredible!
Image via GIPHY
Content needs a digital content strategy behind it to truly have an impact on your audience, bottom line, and web presence. Without that solid foundation, your blog posts, articles, ebooks, web pages, guest blogs, and more will go to waste. (Yes, you heard right – waste!)
It’s 2019, and you NEED to have an online content strategy.
This is what the numbers say about using a digital content strategy for your content marketing:
- Without a strategy, you’re paddling upstream. According to a 2017 survey from Zazzle Media, 60% of marketers found producing consistent content difficult to do.
- Another 60% said they didn’t know how to measure content ROI.
- Via CMI’s 2019 B2B report, 65% of the most successful content marketers have a documented digital content strategy in place. Another 32% have an undocumented strategy.
- That means a whopping 97% of the most successful marketers have some kind of strategy backing up their content!
Some of the benefits of a documented digital content strategy, according to CMI’s report:
- It aligns your team around your mission/goals.
- It helps you figure out which types of content to develop.
- It keeps your team focused on priorities.
- It helps you allocate resources for better results.
- It clarifies your target audience(s).
And of course… it helps you actually measure and see PROFITS and growth.
The numbers don’t lie. A digital content strategy is essential to any content marketing endeavor. It’s what differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful.
Now that you understand the worth of a strategy, let’s dig into a clear definition of what it entails. Then we’ll jump straight to a master plan for building your own profitable digital content strategy.Need a master plan for your 2019 content strategy? @JuliaEMcCoy has you covered in this guide. #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
The 6-Step Master Plan to Building a Profitable Digital Content Strategy
- Understand the Key Fundamentals and Foundations of Digital Content Strategy
- Know Your Content Goals
- Know Your Content Differentiation Factor (CDF)
- Know Your Topic Area(s)
- Understand Your Audience
- Do Audience Research
- Create Audience Personas for Your Content Strategy
- Know How SEO Fits into a Digital Content Strategy
- Research Targeted Keywords Your Ideal Buyer Is Searching
- Build and Solidify Your Online Authority
- Create Content the Right Way
- Optimize Your Content with Keywords
- Find a Workflow that Works
- Map Your Audience Persona to the Marketing Lifecycle
- Map Content Topics to Your Content Goals
- Guest Blog Strategically
- Set a Budget, Promote Your Published Pieces, and Maintain Momentum
- Budget for Your Major Content Activities
- Promote Your Content
- Maintain Your Digital Content Strategy
What Is a Digital Content Strategy? A Simple Definition
The simplest way to think of a digital content strategy is to imagine it as the engine of a car.
The car represents your content marketing. The engine that drives your content marketing is the digital content strategy.
It gives it a purpose and a way to reach ROI. The strategy moves your content marketing forward, pushing it in the right direction. Without a strategy, your content will remain stuck in the mud.
The digital content strategy is also a lot like a map. It tells you the direction to take your content to best appeal to your ideal audience, so you always know how to get to ROI. This includes:
- Where to publish content
- How often to publish
- Where to share/promote/distribute it
- The style/voice to use in your content
- The audience niche you’re writing to
- Your content budget
- Your topic areas and target keywords
- And more!
Marketers who forge ahead without a strategy are literally traveling without a map. It’s no wonder they end up lost more often than not.
The 6 Essential Steps to Build a Digital Content Strategy
How do you build a digital content strategy that gets results? There are 6 steps to putting all the pieces of this framework in place.
1. Understand the Key Fundamentals and Foundations of Digital Content Strategy
You can’t start building your digital content strategy without these key fundamentals.
A. Know Your Content Goals
What do you hope to gain from content marketing? These are your content goals, and they should drive your entire content strategy. Identify goals first before you do anything else.
B. Know Your Content Differentiation Factor (CDF)
Before you can assemble the other pieces of your strategy, you have to have one key fundamental in hand. I call this your Content Differentiation Factor, or CDF for short.
This factor is what separates you or your client’s brand from the billions of others out there on the internet.
- What sets you apart from your competitors?
- How do you help your customers/audience differently?
- How do you help them better than anybody else in your industry?
Once you have a handle on your CDF, you can dive into which topic areas you will own for content creation. That’s a HUGE part of any good digital content strategy.
C. Know Your Topic Area(s)
Content marketing is all about giving your audience value and information in the form of blogs and articles, images, infographics, videos, ebooks, white papers, and more. When you provide accurate, reliable, trustworthy content, time and time again, you build trust with your people.
Of course, if you’re going to provide all of these resources, you need something to write/talk about. It can’t be just any random topic, though. It has to be:
- Relevant to what you sell
- Relevant to your audience
- Related to your industry expertise
I call this your topic area – the place where what your audience wants and your expertise collide.
Your key topic area is a broad umbrella under which lots of other related topics live.
Example: If your expertise is “selling running shoes,” you don’t have to limit your content to that topic alone. Lots of connected, related topics will lead your target audience to you, too:
- Running events
- Warm-up exercises
- Knee health
Big tip: I teach both of these concepts (CDF and topic areas) PLUS how to build a digital content strategy from the ground up in my comprehensive, intensive Content Strategy & Marketing Course.
2. Understand Your Audience
The next question that should be on your radar when creating a digital content strategy:
If you’re thinking “Wow, I have NO IDEA,” you need to do audience research, STAT.Building a digital content strategy for 2019? You need a master plan. @JuliaEMcCoy has you covered in this guide. #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
A. Do Audience Research
Audience research is an indispensable activity to do when you’re forming your digital content strategy. This helps you get to know your targets on a deep, personal level without any guesswork. (Because if you only guess at what your ideal audience is like, you’ll probably miss the mark!)
My #1 tip for audience research is to simply talk to them. That’s right – sit down and have an old-fashioned conversation with your ideal customer, whether over the phone, on Skype, or at your favorite coffee shop.
Pick their brain, get to know them, and find out what makes them tick. This type of research will be monumentally helpful when you go on to create your audience persona.
B. Create Audience Personas for Your Content Strategy
An audience persona is like a cheat sheet that tells you all of the important facts, stats, and demographics about your ideal customer. This little tool not only helps you remember your audience is made up of living, breathing people – it also helps you stay hyper-focused on who you’re talking to in your content. It might look like this:
A mock buyer persona for Starbucks. Check the SlideShare to see the whole thing.
How do you create a persona? Ask lots of personal questions about your buyer. This is a good example of a persona development checklist from WiredImpact. This is specifically for nonprofits, but many of the questions can apply to any type of brand or industry:
3. Know How SEO Fits In
Your ideal buyer is searching on Google for information. Targeting the keywords your online leads are typing into the search bar means they will discover you that much quicker.
That’s called search engine optimization (SEO), and it’s a major piece of any digital content strategy.
SEO begins with keyword research.
A. Research Targeted Keywords Your Ideal Buyer Is Searching
Keyword research is how you find those key terms and phrases your ideal buyer is searching for on Google.
Your best bet is to find long-tail keywords (3 or more words in length) with low competition (usually meaning a keyword difficulty score – KD – of less than 50; i.e. still “easy” or “possible” to rank for that term) and highly relevant to your brand/industry. I call this your “sweet spot.”
To find your own highly relevant, low-competition keywords:
- Start with broad seed keywords that describe your industry niche. (Example: “treehouse”)
- Add onto those terms to make them long-tail. (Example: “how to build a treehouse”)
- Look at the keyword variations your tool suggests.
- Check keyword difficulty and search volume. Weed out the keywords that are too hard to rank for/have too much competition.
For an expanded breakdown of keyword research for your digital content strategy, check out our guide: How to Find Killer SEO Keywords for Your Online Content.
4. Build and Solidify Your Online Authority
Building up your online presence and authority has a ripple effect:
- It demonstrates your expertise in your industry.
- It builds trust with your audience, transforming them from visitors to leads to customers.
- It builds your website’s domain authority (DA).
- It generates valuable backlinks to your website (which helps your content climb the rankings).
All of these positive effects are essential to profitable content marketing. That’s why ironing out how you will build your online authority is a must-do when you build your digital content strategy.
- Where will you focus on building your authority?
- What’s the main web address that will be associated with your brand?
- Where will all outside links to your content point to?
The answer to all of these questions is what I call your content house.
This is your content basecamp, where you will host and publish all of your content pieces, landing pages, and blogs. It will be the main focus of your digital content strategy efforts.
Build content on your own land versus proprietary platforms (Facebook, Medium, Blogger, etc.). Outside platforms come and go, and your control over the content you post is never guaranteed. In contrast, you have total control over your own domain, and your content will be there as long as you maintain it.
Some other tips for building your online authority:
- Keep your website updated and fresh. Blogging helps with this!
- Make sure the design is user-friendly, including links, navigation, and images.
- Only publish the best content you possibly can.
- Prioritize quality over quantity.
For more guidance, this article from HubSpot is a good resource on this topic: 11 Ways to Use Content to Build Online Authority.
5. Create Content the Right Way
Here it is: the nitty-gritty part of your digital content strategy. Content creation is truly the heart of the whole shebang.
Luckily, you already did a lot of the dirty work by going through steps 1-4. Having your target audience + personas in hand as well as relevant keywords, your topic area(s), and your content goals will make content creation a snap.
A. Optimize Your Content with Keywords
Remember those keywords you found via strategic keyword research? It’s time to put them into action.
- Ideate content topics using your keywords.
- Write content around those keywords.
- Use keywords in key places in your content:
- Title tag/headline
- Meta description
- Page URL (also called the “URL slug”)
- H2s, H3s
- First and last paragraphs
- Sprinkled throughout, including synonymous keywords
B. Find a Workflow That Works
To create great content consistently, you need a proven workflow that works every time.
Your workflow can and should stem from your digital content strategy. Lay out the key steps you’ll take each and every time you sit down to create content, and the process will flow much easier. Include these three basic steps:
- Ideation – Come up with content ideas that fall within your topic area(s) and match up with your content goals. Do it regularly so you never have to face a blank mind and a blank computer screen. (See “Map Content Topics to Your Content Goals,” below.)
- Creation – Write, research, draft, and edit your content. In this stage, you’ll also add images, optimize with keywords, and potentially collaborate with other writers, editors, and graphic designers.
- Preparation – Schedule your content to publish strategically. Use an editorial calendar to organize your posting schedule. Start thinking of where you can distribute and promote your content besides your content house.
C. Map Your Audience Persona to the Marketing Lifecycle
Remember the audience persona from step 2 of building our digital content strategy? Don’t just write for them. Write for where they currently stand in the marketing lifecycle.
This will help you create content that’s ultra-targeted, that speaks to your buyer’s deepest pain points. You’ll be addressing them right where it hurts and offering help – and that’s beyond powerful.
The modern marketing lifecycle looks like this. Note that it includes a key stage, Loyalty:
Check out this post on the marketing lifecycle to read about what each stage means for your buyer. Once you figure out what stage your persona is in, you can map that stage to a type of content you should create for them, or an action you should take to help them move to the next:
Use the marketing lifecycle in tandem with the next section (5.D. – mapping content topics to goals) for content that packs a punch.
D. Map Content Topics to Your Content Goals
What’s the best way to ensure the content you create moves you closer to your goals and ROI?
When your content topics connect to your goals. In other words, your content should always serve a purpose. It shouldn’t just exist – it needs to do something to get you closer to your idea of success.
I rely on my three-bucket topic strategy to make sure my content aligns with my goals. Here’s how it works:
I visualize my major brand goals for my digital content strategy as 3 different buckets:
- Build SEO rankings
- Build sales & connections
- Build brand awareness
Every single content piece I create needs to fit inside at least one of these goal buckets.
Additionally, certain content types fit into each bucket:If a content topic idea doesn’t fit into one of these buckets, I throw it in the trash and move on to the next idea.
Check out our guide on using the three-bucket topic strategy to really dig into how this can work for you.
E. Guest Blog Strategically
Guest blogging is an activity that majorly builds your online authority. When you guest blog strategically, it will lead the host blog’s audience (which also should be your target audience) straight to your content house, like so:
When approaching guest blogging opportunities as part of your digital content strategy, remember to:
- Only approach guest blog publications that are directly related to your brand/industry, for which you share a target audience.
- Familiarize yourself with the publication’s posting guidelines, and follow them to the letter.
- Contact a real, live human from the publication about guest posting for a better chance at a “yes.” This is usually an editor or managing editor.
6. Set a Budget, Promote Your Published Pieces, and Maintain Momentum
The final parts of setting up your digital content strategy include setting your budget, planning for content promotion, and generally keeping your content marketing momentum going strong.
A. Budget for Your Major Content Activities
To carry out your digital content strategy, you will need some resources. This can include stuff like:
- Web hosting
- Help with content creation (copywriters, editors, etc.)
- Tools and software for keyword research, topic research, email marketing, etc.
- Tools and software for tracking and measuring your content performance
As such, you should budget for everything you plan to use to make your content strategy work.
B. Promote Your Content
SEO is only one way your target audience may discover your content. Along with this, you should come up with ways to promote and distribute your content to get as many eyes on it as possible. This might include:
- Emails to your subscribers
- Social media posts surrounding your content
- Paid promotion like Facebook ads
C. Maintain Your Digital Content Strategy
Maintaining your digital content marketing strategy is all about auditing your content, tracking your progress, and measuring your results. Without this, you’ll never be able to see how far you’ve come, and your ROI will be unclear.
Auditing your content for quality and freshness – Eventually, lots of your old blogs and content pieces will get outdated with stale information or old quality standards. Updating these posts is a great idea for your digital content strategy. It ensures your content always aligns with your goals, mission, and standards.
Tracking and measuring – You will have no idea what kind of effect content marketing has on your brand presence and revenue if you don’t track and measure it. According to the Content Marketing Institute, a few KPIs (key performance indicators) to hone in on include:
- Organic website traffic
- Unique visitors
- Engagement (bounce rates, click patterns, page views)
- Social shares
A Digital Content Strategy Is Your Map to More Customers, More ROI, and More Revenue
Content marketing is nothing without a strategy. When you put that foundation in place, it gives you a map and guidebook to ROI. It points you in the right direction and tells you how to get there.
According to CoSchedule’s 2018 State of Marketing Strategy Report, marketers who create and document a digital strategy are 538% more likely to report success than those without a documented strategy.
That’s incredible. More importantly, it shows just how vital it is to plan out your digital marketing. So, here’s my next question:
Have you started your content marketing planning yet? (If not… What are you waiting for?)