Many companies struggle when it comes to how they develop a content marketing strategy, especially if the ultimate goal is producing organic traffic that results in new business.
Founders and marketing managers tend to feel compelled to use their blog, in particular, as a:
- Thought leadership pulpit
- Press release depository
- Catalog of industry analyses that (often feel like they) are pulled out of a hat
Inevitably, however, the blog’s self-serving PR copy and thought leadership pieces (as thoughtful as they may be) fall short when it comes to building a growth curve of awareness or conversions.
Even more frustrating is that these articles may be bringing in tons of traffic — but it’s the wrong kind of traffic; i.e., lots of eyeballs that simply aren’t going to become customers, or even subscribe to a newsletter.
This is where companies sometimes blame their on-staff or freelance writers for just not “getting it.” But this is a fatal error.
The truth is, many company blogs today fail to establish a documented content strategy that interweaves critical marketing objectives into their content operation. This strategic insight can only come from the company’s top stakeholders. Without a detailed, nuanced and contextual explanation of how to communicate the company’s product and/or service to a specific target audience, how can writers even begin to ascertain what they should write for who?
Getting this step right is called the message-market fit — content marketing’s answer to the product-market fit — and your company blog needs to nail this down within a multi-dimensional content marketing strategy if you hope to ever build an upward growth curve for conversions.
To hit the message-market fit on the bell, a documented content strategy has to address several things. Here are 7 factors that guide us when it comes to how we develop a content marketing strategy:
- Keyword research, starting with at least 50 keywords across each region being targeted
- SERP and keyword rationale, outlining why this piece merits being written vis-a-vis current content on the search engine page
- Buyer awareness, organizing content by a break down of all stages of the marketing funnel
- Content formats, describing the specific style that each article needs in order to outrank
- Expert interview sources, be they from external subject experts or internal ones
- Working title, which can also be an SEO title that is anchored down to a keyword
- Blog description, detailing in at least three sentences what exactly this piece is about
Before entering into keyword research, it’s important that company’s conduct thorough customer research.
Yet, companies often omit or rush through this critical stage, even though it is great customer research that will ultimately best inform the nuanced keyword research at the cornerstone of any high-impact content marketing strategy.
Note: Not every piece of content needs to target a specific keyword. Indeed, when it comes to case studies, expert interviews, whitepapers and other similar authority-building content, an SEO-focused keyword won’t necessarily work.
I’ll leave a more in-depth view of customer and keyword research for another time, as that topic merits a separate article altogether. Here, we’ll simply touch on how keywords can anchor down a content strategy.
In this article, I’ll cover all of the above 7 factors to demonstrate just how to build a content marketing strategy from the point of view of what a founder or marketing manager should be instructing his/her content marketing team to deliver.
[Want to learn how to develop a content marketing strategy that nails down the message-market fit? Schedule a call and we’ll demonstrate how we use documented content strategies to transform underperforming blogs into real business-generating machines.]
1. How to develop a content marketing strategy: Start by targeting keywords that move the needle, quickly
To launch a new content strategy, we always recommend creating a 3-month content agenda that provides a foundational outlook for how to organize (and eventually own) your company’s must-have topics.
Leveraging off of customer and keyword research, we’ll identify topics that your company considers the brand-defining keywords of your business.
Stop now and imagine which words best define the following: your product, service, product-market fit, top USPs and top pain points being solved.
A superior content strategy aims to obtain #1 ranked visibility for topics that win these brand-defining keywords, and in a strategic way that takes your readers down a buyer journey.
Below is partial screenshot of the 3-month content strategy that we employ.
Notice that it is founded on keywords, which are choices that are directly influenced by our study of the keyword’s traffic, keyword difficulty, CPC, top SERP results and other metrics.
This content agenda document also includes a section to outline why we picked a particular keyword (or keywords) for each piece of content.
The keyword rationale is where the keyword’s strategy — be it for high volume, low KD or a low competition SERP — is outlined.
Here is where a study of the keyword’s Search Engine Results Page needs to be completed and understood. How Google ranks other top pages will directly inform the content strategy for how we will outrank.
This SERP rationale will also influence the content format. For example, if an article is written by listing benefits, comparisons, or in a list format. (More on this later.)
Keyword rationale also needs to directly tie into the buyer journey, which brings us to our next step in developing a content strategy.
2. Match buyer personas with content that “mind maps” the marketing funneling
Every company’s marketing department will at one point have created a collaborative strategy that documents who their buyer personas are.
But many companies fail to connect the dots with content marketing, linking up buyer personas to a content strategy in a way that plugs in each stage of awareness throughout the buyer journey.
We call this creating a mind map, and this is achieved only when your content addresses readers at each possible stage of their awareness to fill in any gaps in the sales funnel.
A truly mind mapped content strategy will look at the complete buyer life cycle. Your typical sales funnel will have a top-of-the-funnel down to bottom-of-the-funnel set of awareness stages — but this is not enough.
A complete sales funnel must include post-purchase stages. The customers that are at this stage of their buyer journey will also need content to address very specific pain points.
Take a look at the buyer funnel that we use.
After a purchase is complete, a completely different journey starts. Therefore, a well-documented content strategy must also consider these very important readers in mind. (After all, they are the ones that are already paying you!)
Which keyword your content covers and which stage of the buyer funnel it plans to target should be both reflected in the content agenda.
There are numerous buyer awareness stages to consider, and depending on each industry and company, they minimum amount to cover can vary.
But we recommend developing a content marketing strategy that mind maps at least the: Top-of-the-Funnel (ToFu); Middle-of-the-Funnel for research (MoFu(R)); Middle-of-the-Funnel for evaluation (MoFu(E)); Bottom-of-the-Funnel (BoFu); and Post-Purchase awareness stages.
Ultimately, your content strategy should offer a piece of content that is linked to each stage of the buyer funnel for each buyer persona that you target.
We use this incredibly well-defined Buyer Persona Topic Matrix to help identify and fill content gaps in our content marketing strategy.
Only when that matrix is filled out with content for each buyer persona at each stage of awareness can a content strategy succeed in mind mapping.
3. Determine the content format that works best for Google and your unique audience
Studying a keyword’s SERP is among the most important and overlooked parts of SEO strategy.
Google’s algorithm has already determined what elements of content format are most valuable for its customers (that is, searchers). By analyzing this, we can also inform a smarter content strategy that best meets search intent, the heart and soul of SEO.
How Google ranks pages depends on numerous metrics, but we know that concluded user searches, topic authority, backlinks and the semantics of subject matter all play major roles.
That last part is partially crucial to understand when thinking about content format. How closely linked our subject matter is positioned in comparison to other top-ranking pages for that keyword will help optimize our way up the page.
For example, queries for ‘how to invest in the stock market’ in Australia turn up a SERP that is led by guides.
It’s clear that Google has determined that comprehensive guides for beginner’s is the type of information that best rewards Google customers.
Explaining what content formats work best for Google is called SERP rationale.
Here, pinning down a clear SERP rationale is so critical that if no compelling content format strategy is found, you might realize that an article is not worth writing.
If you had planned, for example, to write an article about a certain product or service, but then discover that the first 6 to 8 results for that high-difficultly keyword are all product landing pages, then your effort may best be spent writing a landing page and not a blog page.
A well-documented content marketing strategy has to define content format to ensure that SERP rationale is met while linking the content to other parts of the content agenda.
It’s important to note here that not every piece of content needs a keyword. SEO will not be relevant to all parts of your content strategy.
If you are producing a case study for a MoFu CEO buyer or an expert interview piece to inform post-purchase customers, then SEO becomes much less relevant.
Still, the type of content format that those articles are categorized by should be part of a set of styles that maintain consistency throughout your content marketing strategy.
4. Conduct expert interviews according to buyer awareness
So, if you were to write a guide, service benefits or product comparison piece that follows a content format similar to other top-ranking pages on the SERP, what would make your content objectively better?
Reading, rewriting and regurgitating content already found on the internet won’t make you unique. This is unfortunately what most untrained content writers do today — they get assigned a topic, Google it and then paraphrase it into the brand.
To write an objectively better article than your competitors, we’ll need to take a page out of the journalists’ handbook.
By conducting interviews with subject experts, writers will be able to add unique perspectives to the conversation. The goal here is to discover the magical intersection between brand, message-market fit and unique expert insight to make our article the most valuable piece of information covering that specific topic on the internet.
Expert sources are included in articles according to which marketing funnel stage we are targeting.
For ToFu articles, readers usually find the most value from external subject experts that will lend credibility and authority to your site. This includes the two awareness stages highlighted below.
However, as the buyer persona moves down the funnel, we find that interviewing internal subject experts offers the best value.
This is because MoFu and (especially) BoFu articles are very on-brand pieces of content. Only subject experts within your company can deliver the specific perspectives and solutions to accurately represent your brand.
An outside expert, as knowledgeable as they may be, does not have the internal experience to explain just how valuable your produce or service is.
As a journalist, this all makes great sense.
Journalists live and die by the quality of their sources, as well as the contextual relevance that these sources provide to their research. The same goes for learning how to develop a content marketing strategy today; only by interviewing relevant experts within the right places of the of funnel can we outrank in position and editorial substance.
5. Communicate working/SEO title and blog description
Finally, and only after the steps above have been checked off, a working title and blog description can now be communicated to the CMO or marketing manager.
A telltale sign of an absent content strategy is one that jumps directly to this stage without understanding any of the other critical steps in this process.
Here, the writer can also communicate the SEO title. This is the title that will appear on search engine pages, and it should often differ from the title that is displayed on your website. SEO titles include the keyword and must be short enough to fit into search result limits.
We then normally request writers to deliver a three-sentence synopsis of what the blog will feature, including possible interview targets, the subject matter, editorial objectives, keyword and SERP ranking strategies and the content format.
Only then can you say that your content team has aligned upon a content strategy that is built to generate conversions.
Researching how to develop a content marketing strategy for your team?
Mint Position Media is a content marketing agency that works with B2B and B2C companies to transform their content strategies into business-generating tools.
We do this by creating a documented content agenda that plans 2 to 4 new articles into the pipeline every month, ensuring that subject expert interviews, marketing funnel and SEO strategies are interwoven with your brand to create a message-market fit.
Schedule a call and we’ll happily demonstrate how we use documented content strategies to fix underperforming blogs.