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Content Strategy: The Definitive Guide To Building A Plan That Works

August 26, 2020

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Content Strategy: The Definitive Guide To Building A Plan That Works

Content Strategy 101

Content Marketing Strategy Steps

1. Conduct Research To Find Out What Your Customers Really Want.

2. Perform SEO Competitor Analysis

3. Build Keyword Lists

4. Select The Best Types Of Content To Write

5. SEO-ing Your Content

Before You Start, Heed This Warning

Unless you have a content specialist on your team, it’s difficult to build a content strategy that will actually work. You know, the kind that drives more – a lot more – organic traffic to your website and converts visitors into leads.

In fact, if you don’t spend the time building a strategic approach to content marketing, you’ll literally be wasting your time. 

There, I said it.

So stop your content strategy right now if you don’t have a data-backed plan.

We’re not exaggerating! You’re better off putting those resources into paid ads or something.

However, if you are ready to put your organization’s time and resources into a content marketing strategy that has a solid foundation and covers all the steps you need to take to ensure a return on investment, then keep reading.

This definitive guide to building a content strategy framework will walk you through all the steps you need to take to develop a solid content approach.

So let’s dive into this important topic: How to create a content strategy.

What is a content marketing strategy?

A content marketing strategy is your company’s approach to using content (such as blogs, ebooks, case studies, checklists, guides, white papers, and more) to build authority, grow awareness, attract leads, and close deals.

Content Strategy 101

Foundations. They’re huge in personal development, career goals, you name it.

Take sports for example. If you wanted to become a great basketball player, you’d need to first focus on the fundamentals.

Dribbling with the left hand. Dribbling with the right hand. Passing. Shooting form.

You wouldn’t move onto complicated plays or shooting NBA-distance three-pointers if you haven’t first mastered (let that sink in, MASTERED) lay ups, foul shooting, jump stops, the jab step, pivoting, and so forth.

Any great team (think North Carolina or the UConn women) has absolutely mastered the foundational elements that go into being a great player so they can become a great team.

Let’s use this same analogy for developing content. 

We know the end-game is valuable: lots of FREE organic traffic, warm leads, people who are interested in what you’re selling, website visitors who have grown to know, like and trust you.

It’s the Holy Grail, really, of content marketing.

So how do you get there?

Build the fundamental pieces you need. Let’s dive into the steps you need to follow to develop these fundamental skills.

Content Marketing Strategy Steps

What should a content strategy include?

A content strategy should include:

  1. Conducting voice of the customer research.
  2. Performing an SEO competitor analysis.
  3. Building keyword lists.
  4. Selecting the best types of content to write.
  5. SEO-ing your content.

1. Conduct Research To Find Out What Your Customers Really Want

We call this “Voice of the Customer” research. 

It involves interviewing past or current customers to find out what their challenges are, what problems they’re trying to solve, and which solutions they’ve tried.

HubSpot covers 12 voice of the customer methods to generate feedback, which will guide you through various tactics to try, such as customer interviews, surveys, live chat and social media.

The best method to use will depend on your business, the customers you have access to, and whether you can gather the information online (through, for example, researching social media hashtags) or not.

Once you’ve gathered this data, you can use it to build a definitive buyer persona (or buyer personas). 

Utilize your sales team or customer service representatives to uncover key data points as well, if you can’t talk directly to customers. Because your sales and customer reps are on the front lines talking to customers, they will likely have key insights to offer.

You should be able to gather customer information by picking their brains, using questions like these.

voice of the customer questions

Voice of the Customer Questions

Using a buyer persona template, like the one below that Neil Patel created, use the voice of the customer data to fill in the most important details about your ideal customer.

 Neil Patel Buyer Persona Worksheet

Neil Patel Buyer Persona Worksheet

2. Perform SEO Competitor Analysis

The next leg of an effective content strategy framework is competitor analysis.

Your business has two kinds of competitors:

  1. The companies to whom you actually lose business.

  2. And companies that Google sees as your online competition.

Without both types of data, you will be shooting arrows into the dark when you create content (and your content won’t drive organic traffic).

Performing an SEO competitor analysis (using a tool like MOZ) helps you bridge the gap between buyer persona data and your return on investment. 

It goes the extra mile to ensure that your keyword strategy, content and messaging hit the right targets.

We start by looking at four points of data:

  • Domain authority (or how Google perceives the authority of your website).

  • Monthly organic traffic (or the amount of organic traffic that your website gets each month).

  • Linking root domains (or the number of root domains that link to your website).

  • Ranking keywords (or the number of keywords your website ranks for).

Flight Media’s SEO data

Flight Media’s SEO data

In general, the higher all your numbers, the better.

You can check data like this by conducting your own domain analysis. MOZ has a free domain analysis tool you can use.

It walks you through information shown in the image above (Flight Media’s SEO data) as well as top ranking keywords, top featured snippets, top questions, top competitors and more (I’ve pulled this data for Flight Media’s domain shown below in several screenshots).

A. Top Ranking Keywords

When you run your report, you may be surprised at this data. In many cases, we’ve run competitor analysis data for clients, and the results in this area were not what they expect.

You probably have a general sense of what you’d like to rank for, but the keywords your site is currently ranking for is likely showing a different picture. This simply means that your site is ranking for ideas, products or services unrelated to what you actually do. Or what prospects and customers are looking for.

Don’t panic at this point. If your top ranking keywords are way off, it simply gives you a starting point from which to build your keyword list build the elements of your content strategy.

Flight Media’s top 5 ranking keywords

Flight Media’s top 5 ranking keywords

It’s also helpful to use your SEO tool to get a list of ALL keywords your site currently ranks for. The screenshot belows shows data we pulled to get a list of all the keywords our site ranks for.

Flight Media’s keyword listAll keywords our site ranks for

You can see from this screenshot that this single blog about online tools for content writers generates over 200 organic views each month from a variety of keywords it ranks for.

B. Top Featured Snippets

You can learn more about featured snippets here, but overall, Google perceives these as equivalent to a #1 ranking on a search result. 

Jeff Bullas example of a featured snippet

Jeff Bullas example of a featured snippet

So they are definitely a factor that should be part of your SEO content strategy and they will play a huge role in helping your individual blogs, and website, rank.

The MOZ domain analysis tool shows us the featured snippets that we rank for in the screenshot below.list of Featured snippets 

Featured snippets that Flight Media ranks for

C. Top Questions

These are top questions searchers may use when they are looking for information online. 

It’s helpful information in order to get additional ideas on what to write about.

Top questions from People Also Ask

Top questions from People Also Ask

D. Top Search Competitors

In this list, you’ll see the top competitors that Google views for your site. 

(Note these may be different than your actual competitors. You can build a content marketing strategy to overcome some of the competitors on your list that are not relevant to what you do. However, some competitors may be informational in nature, like a news outlet or information site. Bad news, you will likely have to compete with them.)

Flight Media’s performance against competitors

Flight Media’s top search competitors.

E. Actual Competitor Data

Now, you can focus on your actual competitors. Looking at the keywords they rank for, and their corresponding pages, is hugely insightful. Think of it like spying on competitors!

We use MOZ as our SEO tool, and it lets you compare your site to several competitors, looking at various metrics like ranking keywords, top keyword positions, page authority and domain authority.

I chose two competitors to compare our numbers to, based on the list above from our domain analysis.

Flight Media’s performance against competitors

Flight Media’s performance against competitors

You can see that these two competitors outperform us in all areas. We’re not overly worried about this, because Search Engine Journal and PipeDrive are different than we are in many ways. 

First, they aren’t an inbound marketing agency. Search Engine Journal is an informational site, and PipeDrive focuses solely on sales. 

However, we can still use the data as one source of comparison and to build our keyword lists.

Once I compare Flight to our competitors, I can drill down into the keyword list for each of our competitors, compared to our own performance (see below). Note how Flight Media ranks #1 in the following keywords, whereas our competitors don’t even rank in the top 50.

 

I can toggle the list, however, to show where Search Engine Journal ranks #1 for keywords. 

Combing through this list, I can find relevant search terms that pertain to what we do and write blogs about these topics.

I want to look for terms that have a difficulty in the same range as our Domain Authority, with enough monthly search volume potential to make it worthwhile to write about.

I would then repeat the process, reviewing PipeDrive’s top keywords and identifying keywords we want to try and win.

MOZ also has a handy visual tool that shows where our keywords overlap with competitors.

Flight Media’s competitor overlap

Flight Media’s competitor overlap

Now that you’ve looked at all this SEO competitor analysis data, the next step is to use it, along with the voice of the customer and buyer persona, to build keyword lists. 

3. Build Keyword Lists

Now that I have identified potential competitor keywords I want to rank for, I need to build keyword lists based on the services we offer, and on what searchers are looking for.

I’ll start, again in my MOZ tool, looking for keywords based on general services, like “inbound marketing.”

MOZ keyword list tool

Screenshot of the MOZ keyword list tool

In MOZ, I can see the monthly search volume for this term is as high as 6,500 each month, and the difficulty is 57. This is significantly higher than our Domain Authority of 39, but it’s still a good search term to put on my list because it is highly relevant to what we do.

I can also click through to MOZ’s “keyword suggestions” to find more keywords related to “inbound marketing.”

List of related keywords 

List of related keywords for “inbound marketing”

I’ll continue searching for terms and build a robust list of keywords I can use to start creating content.

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4. Select The Best Types Of Content To Write

There are various strategies we use to develop content for ourselves and for clients, based on their Domain Authority and Monthly Organic Traffic.

We generally work with companies who have a website and have gained some authority, but are either low in organic volume so their overall website authority is low.

If your Domain Authority is around or below 20 and you have less than 2,000 organic monthly website visitors, we recommend that you start with authority-building strategies.

This includes writing these types of blogs:

  1. Write new blogs about non-competitive keywords (referring to your keyword list):

    1. Comparison articles (CRM vs CRM, for example)

    2. Reviews (Google Drive Review, for example)

    3. KPIs (Marketing Director KPIs, for example)

    4. Templates/examples/checklists (Checklist for creating a blog, for example)

    5. Terminology (blogging terminology, for example)

    6. Social list articles (Top blogging experts to follow on Instagram, for example)

    7. Buyer questions (pull these from your buyer persona)

  2. Create quality, unique content: data-driven articles or case studies (How we increased organic traffic by following Flight Media’s content strategy, for example ;))

  3. Create long-form articles/Pillar Pages and Content Clusters (See Hubspot's Guide here.)

You will use your keyword lists to finalize the topics for these blogs.

5. SEO Your Content

While you’re writing blogs, you’ll want to use your keywords strategically to ensure that the content ranks. Here are some guidelines to follow. 

Use keywords in the:

  • Title

  • Subheading

  • Introduction

  • Alt Image Text

  • Meta Description

  • And to rank for Featured Snippets (using code).

If you’re not sure what featured snippets are, you can learn more here:

You’ll also want to use a tool like MOZ to monitor content performance. Without an SEO tool, you won’t know how your content is doing. 

But don’t worry if it’s not ranking well yet. You can use MOZ to:

  • Monitor keyword rankings

  • Tweak content to rank higher.

  • Make content adjustments to rank for featured snippets.

  • Periodically update existing blogs. (As you write more and more blogs, you’ll develop a library of content. Updating that content becomes an important SEO factor. For example, a competitor might start to outrank one of your top-performing blogs, so you’ll need to update it.)

You can see from the following screenshots how we monitor content performance of our own blogs in MOZ.

This is Flight Media’s rankings:

keyword tracking

Flight Media’s overall rankings for keywords we’re tracking in the MOZ system.

And on this page, we can track the changes we make to optimize various blog pages:

page SEO optimization tracking

Flight Media’s tracking page for blogs we optimize for SEO

The final steps of your content strategy should include the following steps. 

These are steps we recommend to clients and then also follow when we implement a client’s content strategy:

  1. Create an editorial calendar to keep everything organized. Trust me, you’ll need it!

  2. Identify blog categories and tags for your blog to enhance the user’s experience.

  3. Conduct Subject Matter Expert (SME) interviews and use them to create authoritative blogs.

  4. Track content performance and analyze reports to make necessary changes to the content strategy.

  5. Set up conversion tracking to identify leads that come in through blog articles (using Google Analytics, Hubspot, etc.). It’s important to know if your content brings in sales, and how much.

Before You Start, Heed This Warning

This is the exact plan we use to create our own content strategy framework, and it’s what we follow to build content marketing strategies for our clients.

We hope you find it helpful to create your own content plan that gets a huge ROI. 

There’s no sense creating content if you don’t put an effective strategy behind it. Remember those team fundamentals? We’ve laid out all the pieces for you here. So don’t go in half-hearted. Or you might as well not bother. 

Yes, we just recommended that you don’t create content if you’re not serious about investing time and resources into it. 

You’re better off running paid ads and outbound sales if your organization isn’t prepared to invest in content.

Here’s how to plan a content strategy

You plan a content strategy by following this unique content marketing framework:

1. Conduct Research To Find Out What Your Customers Really Want

2. Perform SEO Competitor Analysis

3. Build Keyword Lists

4. Select The Best Types Of Content To Write

5. SEO Your Content

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