How to create a content strategy that drives results for your business?

A man creating content strategyPhoto by Kaleidico on Unsplash

One common challenge that I observed in almost all marketing teams I was a part of was that the content marketing efforts weren’t delivering desired results.

Over time, while driving content strategy in multiple roles I read many articles by people who did it right and implemented what was relevant for me at that time. I tried multiple things and kept on refining my approach till it worked consistently across business lines. Through this post, I am sharing my approach to creating a content strategy that should drive the desired results for your business too.

I call it the RCM approach. It covers three broad sections — a) Research, b) Create & Distribute and c) Measure.

Please note, the content strategy applies to all the content you create across all channels and not just blog. Most of the sections of the article will be covered as independent topics soon. For now, I have tried to explain what is required to understand the context.

Here are the sections we will cover, depending on your context YMMV:

1. Research:

1.1 Understand the business

1.2 See if you need an extensive content strategy

1.3 Set goals & benchmarks

1.4 Define buyer personas

1.5 Do competition research & figure out a niche

2. Create & Distribute:

2.1 Create an extensive smart topic list

2.2 Prioritize using keyword research

2.3 Define content guidelines & create an editorial calendar (To get my custom templates, share your email here and I will send it to you)

2.3 Create topic clusters

2.4 Create, Repurpose & Distribute

3. Measure

3.1. Analyze & refine

Let’s deep dive into all sections. Do subscribe if you find this post helpful:

1. Research:1.1 Understand the business

Over the years, I have come to realize that if you understand your business well, you end up creating a lot more value for the organization via your marketing activities.

It is a good idea to catch up with your colleagues from sales, account management, customer success, product, and other teams. Apart from understanding the business, you will also get great insights into your target audience, their problems, what you are offering, what your competitors are doing, etc.

1.2 See if you need an extensive content strategy

This is the first question we should ask ourselves before getting to work. While every organization would need a content strategy, its depth & breadth may vary depending on the stage of the company and the resources they have at that time.

For Example:

An online car portal that sells new cars (in partnership with multiple OEMs) would need to create tens of thousands of articles around upcoming cars, model details, reviews of new cars, comparison of various models, etc. The more traffic they get, the more leads they can pass on to the OEMs and make a commission on every sale. Hence they will need an extensive content strategy and content will play a primary role in their marketing activities.

Same would be true for an online travel portal that sells holiday packages and also facilitates hotel & flight booking. They would have a plethora of content around places to visit all over the globe, itinerary required, etc.

But an O2O (Online to Offline) business buying used cars from customers at its retail stores will not be generating as much content. It is because the content relevant for car owners and people interested in selling cars would be limited.

1.3 Set goals & benchmarks

As with all marketing activities, the user has to be at the center of your content efforts. Your content must be useful to users. Apart from this, you should identify the end goal you want to achieve via content.

It can be:

Traffic GenerationLead GenerationThought LeadershipBrand Building

….or some other depending on the business need.

Once the goal is decided, set some metrics to be tracked on a weekly or monthly basis. You should know where you want to be and all activities/efforts should help you move towards that goal.

For Example:

In one of the projects, we were setting up the blog as a part of our overall content efforts and we decided to track blog traffic till it reaches a decent stage. After researching online, we realized that there was a huge variation in benchmarks for every industry/organization and the traffic growth for any business depends on multiple factors.

But one thing was very clear, it takes a lot of time to build good content & get decent traffic.

To put things into perspective, I am sharing the screenshot of a tweet by Benedict Evans showing how his blog traffic grew over the years.

Screenshot of a Tweet by Benedict EvansScreenshot of a Tweet by Benedict EvansSo, we decided that we will take our first month’s traffic as a benchmark and then set our targets to increase it at least by 10% on a MOM basis. This was all to be done organically without spending money.1.4 Define buyer personas

Businesses need to get this right. If you know your personas well then only you will be able to create products/services for them and market those well.

I follow a three-step approach here:

STEP 1: Talk to multiple teams, create a hypothesis on personas — When you talk to your colleagues in marketing, product, UX, operations, customer success, sales, KAM, etc. you might observe that they all have a different view on personas. Make a list of all those personas, create some hypothesis on what personas would your business have.STEP 2: Look at your data and validate your personas — Now that you have a hypothesis, look deeper in your database to see which personas get you most of your business, which personas show good retention, etc. Validate the hypothesis you created in step one. Looking at data is important because data will give you trends that hold at scale. List all your personas and download list of customers who fall into those personas.STEP 3: Interview customers & prospects representing your personas — Take interviews of customers that you got from step 2. HubSpot has beautifully explained how to do buyer persona research in this post. You can also download HubSpot’s free persona templates here.

For Example:

A business buying used cars from consumers might have personas like:

First-time car ownerFrequent car upgraderEconomical upgraderWomen car ownerCar enthusiastSome Sample Buyer PersonasSome Sample Buyer Personas1.5 Do competition research & figure out a niche

Writing what most people have already written won’t get us anywhere. In most of the cases, you will find a niche that competition would have missed out on. The only way to identify a niche is by doing thorough competition research.

Competition research would also help you understand your competitor’s content strategy and see how you can differentiate and do better than them.

Analyze what kind of content they are writing, what categories are they covering, is there a gap between what target audience need & what they are writing, what is their publishing frequency, which articles are getting more comments, where all are they distributing it, what are the various content formats they are creating etc.

For Example:

In one of the projects that I did with a used car buying company, we observed that our competitors were broadly covering the following categories:

New Car (Reviews, Comparison, etc.)Used Car (Reviews, Comparison, etc.)Car Maintenance TipsSell Car — Untapped category

The first two categories weren’t relevant to us. The competition had done well in the third category “Car Maintenance” but the last one “Sell Car” had a few articles and the category was mostly untapped.

In the used car category, our competitors were writing on topics like — Why not to sell your car to relatives, How to negotiate while selling your car, etc. While these topics are relevant but a person trying to sell a car would be more interested in knowing the technicalities of selling a car. Some useful topics for her would be — How does my RC transfer happen post selling, What are the documents required to sell a car, What are the RTO regulations for selling a financed car, etc.

Bingo! We had found a niche. We knew the process & technicalities of selling any kind of car across states and we started compiling information from all teams. This turned out to be our competitive advantage as we were able to organically convert people who had a very high intent of selling their car. This further reduced our CAC.Our blogs still appear as featured snippets and rank 1 on Google 🙂Blog appearing as featured snippet on Google searchBlog appearing as a featured snippet on Google search2. Create & Distribute:2.1 Create an extensive smart topic list

This will take a lot of brainstorming and time. I have created a framework to make it easier to come up with topic ideas that are useful to your personas.

You can come up with topics by using the buyer personas * stages in the buyer’s journey * goal grid.The buyer personas * stage in buyer’s journey * goal gridThe buyer personas * stage in the buyer’s journey * goal grid

If the respective value of buyer persona, stages in the buyer’s journey and goal is m, n, and p, you can have (m*n*p) group of topics. Let me explain this with an example.

For Example:

Below table will help you understand how to create the topic list:

An example of how to create an extensive topic listAn example of how to create an extensive topic list

Now that you have a list of topic ideas ready, go to Google search, type your topic and analyze Google’s auto-suggestions and other relevant searches to see what is it that people are searching for.

For Example:

Let’s say you want to understand what kind of content you should be creating on “Car Maintenance”. So, you go to Google and type “Car Maintenance” in the search bar. Here is what Google auto-suggests :

Auto suggestions by Google on Car MaintenanceAuto suggestions by Google on Car Maintenance

And here are other related searches that are shown at the bottom of the page:

Related searches by GoogleRelated searches by Google

If you analyze both these results, you can come up with content ideas on — general car maintenance tips, car maintenance by brand (Maruti, Toyota, Renault etc), car maintenance by season(summer/ winter / rainy etc.), list of car maintenance apps, list of location wise service center etc.

2.2 Prioritize using keyword research

Once you know what you want to write about, you must see the search volume to decide if it will get you some traction. Keyword research will also help you pick the right variation of your keyword. You can use Google keyword planner for this as Google is a good proxy for assessing demand.

For Example:

Continuing the above example on car maintenance. Suppose you have decided to write on “general car maintenance” and want to know if there is decent search volume to pick this keyword. So, you go to Google Keyword Planner and type “Car Maintenance”. This is what you see:

Keyword volume in keyword plannerKeyword volume in keyword planner

The monthly searches for “car maintenance” is 880 and the competition for this keyword is low. Now you can confidently go and write a great article on general car maintenance 🙂

2.3 Define content guidelines & create an editorial calendar

Your content on any platform — blog, social media, email, website, etc. represents your brand. It creates a perception in the mind of your users. Consistency should be maintained in the tone and quality of your content across channels. Hence, at an organizational level, the brand personality and tone need to be defined.

If you have an in-house team or if you are working with freelancers for content creation, I would recommend having two things ready — a). A crisp document on content guidelines which they can follow to ensure that the best practices are followed b). An editorial calendar to be better planned while publishing content.

There are many readymade templates that you can get online or you can customize one to suit your needs. I modified one as per my requirements.

To get my blog guidelines document & the editorial calendar for FREE, just drop your email here and I will email it to you :)2.4 Create topic clusters

Topic cluster strategy is beautifully defined by Hubspot in this video.

What topic cluster strategy means is — You pick one topic and write a pillar content piece that covers all major subtopics of that topic. Then each sub-topic is covered in detail as a cluster. All these clusters link back to the pillar content piece. This ensures that you rank for all your business keywords and establish authority in your domain.Topic cluster methodology by HubspotSource: Hubspot

For Example:

Suppose you want to write about Facebook as a marketing channel. Your pillar content piece might explain these sections in brief — Facebook as a platform, FB Marketing — Ads & Social, FB pages, FB communities, etc.

You can have clusters like — How to set up a FB page, How to set up your FB Business Manager Account, How to create FB community around your product, 10 Best FB ad formats for your business, etc.

2.5 Create, Repurpose & Distribute

Now that you have the plan ready, it’s time to churn good quality content. Make sure you are publishing various content formats across channels at a regular frequency for a long time.

If you are just starting, you can aim to publish 12 blogs, 4 PPT, 12 infographics, 4 videos, 1 newsletter, 1 Ebook in a month. Again these numbers may vary depending on the resources you have and how aggressive you want to go.

Repurpose content into various formats — PPT, Infographics, Ebooks, Videos, Audio, Newsletters, Case Studies, White Papers, Reports, etc.

Various Content FormatsVarious content formats

Once you have various content formats ready, go aggressive on distribution across platforms — SlideShare, Pinterest, Your Company’s Facebook / Twitter /LinkedIn accounts, Other FB & LinkedIn Groups, Relevant Forums, YouTube, Email, etc

Some prominent content distribution channelsSome prominent content distribution channelsYou won’t get results from all distribution channels but after a few attempts, data will show you which platforms are working well for you.

Along with all this, make sure you capture leads by putting a dynamic subscription widget on your blog or by giving away free ebooks via landing pages. You may set up personalized drip campaigns that trigger as per user’s behavior/interest. The idea is to keep users engaged, help them via your content and be the first choice when they are ready to convert.

3. Measure3.1 Analyze & refine

You won’t know if your efforts are yielding results if you don’t measure. See if you are crossing the benchmarks, measure your metrics regularly, run experiments, observe results, scale what is working, observe what didn’t work and then refine/pivot your content strategy accordingly.

If content strategy is well thought through and execution is flawless, it will almost always get you desired results.I have seen a 100% MOM user growth on a newly set up blog. The absolute numbers were very small. We grew the blog from 2,500 unique sessions in Month1 to 5,000 in Month2, 10,000 in Month 3 and 20,000 in Month 4 without spending any money on promotion.Traffic growth on a blog that was set up from scratchTraffic growth on a blog that was set up from scratchFor another blog which was there for quite some time and was getting organic traction of around 8,000 unique users a month, we saw a jump in traffic from 10,000 users in Month 1 to 15,000 users in Month 5 to 30,000 users in Month 6 and 50,000 in Month 7. It took us 4 months to show results here.User growth on an existing blog after we revived the content strategyUser growth on an existing blog after we revived the content strategy

Note: In March, we got the same number of users as in Feb but the graph is showing a dip because tracking was broken.

In one of the projects, we created around 800 useful pages optimized for search engines. They drove around 10% of our overall conversion and it was all organic 🙂

Some Useful Tools:

Here is a list of a few tools that you might find helpful while creating a content strategy for your business:

Google Keyword Planner to do keyword researchBuffer to schedule your posts on social mediaCopyscape to check plagiarism (needed if you are managing a team)Clevertap to capture leads and set up drip campaignsGoogle Analytics to track all blog metrics and get insightsInstapage to create landing pages on the goSome FREE Resources — As I mentioned earlier, if you want my blog guidelines document and the editorial calendar template, please share your email here so I can email it to you.

Thanks for reading this long post. Hope you found this useful 🙂 If you want to get notified when my next post comes up, please subscribe here.

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