Building an Audience-Focused Content Strategy

Generating content that is relevant to your audience is easy; delivering unique content that actually serves its needs is significantly more difficult. That requires a content strategy.

Generating content that is relevant to your audience is easy; delivering unique content that actually serves its needs is significantly more difficult. That requires a content strategy.

These days, it’s not enough to produce loads of content based on keyword research alone. That might have worked years ago, when Google judged a webpage’s relevance and quality by keyword density. Since then, Google has revamped its algorithm and leaned on artificial intelligence to reward content that’s unique, useful and engaging. Focusing on people’s needs — not just their search queries — is the new goal of content marketing. And yes, there’s a big difference.

Does your content strategy really speak to your audience? And, equally important, does your audience notice? Forging a content strategy that achieves these objectives will likely help all of your marketing efforts. Here, we’ll review the basics for building an audience-focused content strategy.

Step 1: Know Your Audience

To build an audience-focused content strategy, you must first understand your audience. Who are they, and what do they need? What are their hardships? Why might they want your help? In terms of your content, would your audience prefer articles, blog posts, video tutorials, infographics or something else?

Listening is the key to answering these questions. Keyword research — specifically long-tailed keywords in your analytics reports — are one piece of the puzzle. There are better ways to get actual human feedback, though. Check websites such as Yelp and Reddit to see how people talk about merchants and issues in your sphere, or read your own social media comments for more insights on customers’ needs and wants. Brick-and-mortar business owners can ask their employees about what’s on customers’ minds.

Only after you truly know your audience can you move on to the next step.

Step 2: Find Your Content Tilt

At the core of this endeavor is finding your content tilt. Don’t worry if this is the first time you’ve heard this term — you’re not alone. Your content tilt is a form of branding; it’s what ultimately makes your content valuable in a way that’s unique to your business. Finding your content tilt doesn’t just mean pumping out articles that are relevant to your customer’s needs. Rather, it’s about diving deep into the core purpose of your business — thinking carefully about what makes your business remarkable — and then understanding how you’ll help your customers in ways no one else can.

Want an example of a content tilt? Think of how Kelley Blue Book established itself as the go-to resource for people who want to buy or sell used cars, or how Consumer Reports became known as the authority on informative, objective reviews. For another example, go to YouTube and watch different videos of chefs demonstrating their recipes. Then, watch one clip of Nadia G’s “Bitchin Kitchen.” That’s one heck of a content tilt!

Most businesses these days produce plenty of content. They barrage customers with online and print ads, coupons, blog posts, Facebook posts, Twitter posts, Instagram pictures, email blasts and more. And yet, still, people in business are often dissatisfied with their marketing.

That’s because content without a tilt is just noise in the crowd. Find your tilt, and you’ve found your voice. Unlike noise, a voice can send a message.

Step 3: Set Goals

What do you hope to accomplish with your content strategy? Your answer to this question depends largely on your website or the type of business you run.

How to Formulate Your 2018 Content Marketing Strategy

Carolyn, a director of demand generation in the hospitality industry, shared that “It takes too much work to develop the wrong content.” In this month’s step of the revenue marketing journey, we are going to cover content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar.

Carolyn, a director of demand generation in the hospitality industry, shared that “It takes too much work to develop the wrong content.” Sadly, many organizations use a “spray and pray” methodology for content development and discover too late that much of their effort was wasted on the wrong content. Carolyn is not going that route and in this month’s article. In this month’s step of the revenue marketing journey, we cover content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar.

Step 1: Know What Content Is Valuable for Your Clients

Seems like a simple concept, right? When was the last time you surveyed your customers to find out what content topics they like, what channels they like, or their preferred content medium? In a recent interview, Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group and co-author of “The Content Formula,” shared that companies are only just now learning “how to utilize content to effectively meet the needs of their audience as opposed to meeting the needs of their business.” If the primary guide for your content decisions is the download reports from your website you are not on solid ground for planning your content calendar. So conduct a customer engagement survey, find out what content they like. Get free subscriptions to Buzzsumo and Grapevine6 and learn:

  • Which audience is interested in what topics
  • What type of content they are sharing
  • What sources of information are they using
  • Which influencers are most important

Step 2: Document Your Personas (5 to 7 Max)

Buyer personas are examples of real people who make up your customers and clients. They can also include individuals who may influence the buying decision in some way. A persona goes deeper than demographics. Personas are developed by asking questions about a buyer’s motivation and learning what holds the buyer back from making a purchasing decision. By taking the time to document and understand your customer in this way, your content team will develop content that resonates and engages, moving leads through the buyer’s journey to conversion.

Step 3: Document the Full Customer Journey Map

Marketing engages with prospect and customer not just when they are in the funnel for the first time, but throughout their lifecycle including adoption, value realization, loyalty and advocacy. This means that we need content suitable for every stage of the customer journey map.

Your customer journey map should inform your content marketing strategy.
Your customer journey map should inform your content marketing strategy.

Step 4: Audit Your Current Content

Now that you have the customer journey map and the personas, audit your content based on which personas suit what pieces of content and in which stages of the customer journey map can it be effective. Some additional criteria you might consider in the audit include content type, medium, consume-ability, centricity (product, company, or customer), level of engagement achieved, product/service served, industry, gated/ungated, purpose (reach, engagement, conversion, retention) etc. Build the audit in such a way that it can be used as an ongoing inventory of content and so new entries are added to it as they are developed. With the audit in hand, you should be able to see the gaps where more content is needed, but we’re not done yet.

Creating Your Content Marketing Toolkit

One of the keys to content marketing success is consistency — consistency of message, consistency of effort and output, and consistency of approach. So it can be helpful to put together a set of resources, a toolkit, that are accessible to all members of your team for easy and immediate access as they tackle their various content marketing tasks.

Content Marketing Toolkit
Credit: Pixabay by Tero Vesalainen

One of the keys to content marketing success is consistency — consistency of message, consistency of effort and output, and consistency of approach.

That can be hard enough to achieve across a small team — even a one-person department. It gets considerably harder as team size increases.

So it can be helpful to put together a set of resources that are accessible to all members of your team for easy and immediate access as they tackle their various content marketing tasks.

These resources, or toolkit, work best if you build it with your team in mind. The same basic tools might be presented, organized or made available in different ways depending on whether you are

  • A small team vs. a larger or distributed team
  • An in-house team vs. consultants vs. a combination
  • A group that includes company employees outside of your marketing team (ALWAYS a great idea to include!)

The basics should include:

Editorial Calendar

Everyone should know what will be published when to avoid duplication of effort as well as gaps in your messaging.

Content Templates

These should be used for everything from social media posts to blog articles to infographics. The goal isn’t to make everything identical in a cookie-cutter kind of way, but to maintain the consistency we discussed earlier. Your content should be recognizable as your content.

Checklists

From fact-checking to product manager clearance to legal or regulatory review where necessary, every piece of content should pass through the same process before it’s available to the public. This is really a corner you do not want to cut.

Materials Libraries

Having photo collections, graphics and infographics, original research, and other evergreen material at your fingertips keeps you from reinventing the wheel every week. This is an area that typically takes some trial and error — and a reasonable investment — to get right. Once you have it right for your team, though, it may be the most valuable tool in your kit.

Clipping Files

This is an adjunct to the materials library, though often it’s treated as a sub-category within. The problem there is that it can discourage folks from gathering the “half-baked” ideas that later turn into great content, since those ideas aren’t fully formed enough to really fit into the library. (And worse, it’s possible that someone might take a not-ready-for-prime-time idea and create content around it.)

Brand Book and Style Guide

Stepping back from execution specific to your content marketing, there are also concerns to keep in mind for your brand more broadly. Your brand book and style guide should cover the visual aspects of your brand, of course, but also be very specific in laying out your house style for grammar, punctuation, tone and feeling.

Of course, you can go a lot deeper in all of these areas, though the value in doing so will depend largely on the kind of content you produce, the audience you’re producing it for, and the team you have producing it. We always recommend that you start with the basics and build each tool out based on how you find yourself using “version 1.” Version 2 will always be better, as you add what you need and eliminate the extraneous.

Successfully Bring Your SEO Copywriting In-House

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

So I asked her, “Have you ever thought of bringing your SEO copywriting in-house?”

And I could almost hear the light bulb flickering on above her head.

The reality is, SEO copywriting is one task that can often be brought in-house. With the right people and a little training, your existing team members can produce your content—and your company will save money on your search marketing campaign.

If this is the direction you want your company to go, here are some things to consider:

Decide who does the writing. This may seem like a no-brainer, as it’s easy to think, “Well, we have five people in our marketing department, plus all of our sales staff. They can all write copy.” However, some folks are more qualified to write than others—and choosing the best writers will help make your campaign much more successful.

Try to pinpoint possible in-house SEO copywriters by:

  1. Experience: Print/online copywriters and journalists are the easiest to train.
  2. Being realistic: Just because someone is an awesome salesperson doesn’t mean he knows how to write. Review a person’s past writing and be very, very honest about his capabilities. You can train a good writer in SEO copywriting. But you can’t train a naturally bad writer to write better copy—at least, not without putting in some major effort.
  3. Interest: Some folks don’t like to write. Period. They’ll do it when they’re forced to, but the results are less than stellar. Giving writing tasks to these folks won’t help you a bit.

You may decide that you have to hire someone on a full or part-time basis to handle some of the writing. That’s OK. Better to hire someone with experience to fill in the gaps, then transform people into writers who, well, really shouldn’t be the ones writing content for your brand.

Make sure your writers have time to write. SEO copywriting is not an “other duties as assigned” gig. I’ve seen the best campaigns go bad because the SEO copywriters had other tasks to complete—and those duties took precedence over creating content. If you want your SEO copywriters to churn out premium content, that means they need the time to write. And that means good, uninterrupted time-free from meetings, phone calls and e-mail. If you honestly can’t give your writers space to write, you may see better (and faster) results from outsourcing.

Get the right training for your team. This step is crucial. Yes, it is possible to train your writers in SEO copywriting best practices. Yes, you can train folks to write benefit-rich copy that converts like crazy. But the operable word is training. I’ve seen too many companies send their writers to a conference with the task of “learning everything they can about SEO copywriting.” Guess what? I’m usually speaking at those conferences, and the information panelists can provide in 60 minutes or less is basic at best—and it’s certainly not customized for a company’s unique situation.

The right training depends on how much copywriting knowledge your writing team already has. If they are experienced online writers and strategists who just need to understand the SEO copywriting nuances, reading some books and taking a course like my SEO Copywriting Certification training should get them up to speed. If your company currently doesn’t have an in-house SEO copywriting strategy and your writers aren’t experienced online writers, a customized training that discusses copywriting theory as well as SEO copywriting is probably your best bet.

Whatever your company chooses, remember that it’s not fair to push someone into SEO copywriting who has no experience and no training. Not only will it be frustrating for your writer, it’s bad for your business—who wants Web pages written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Determine your content marketing opportunities. It’s one thing to task people with handling your online content. It’s another to tell them exactly what they should be writing. I’ve trained a lot of in-house copywriters, and the key to success (other than training) is having a clear action plan. What initially seems easy, “We’ll just send out some tweets, create a Facebook page and start editing pages,” is actually much more complex. Questions to ask are:

  1. What are our analytics telling us about our current content? What keyphrases are working?
  2. Do we need additional keyphrase research?
  3. What do we expect to gain from (insert content marketing strategy here)? For instance, if Twitter is part of your strategy, make sure you know how you’ll actually measure success.
  4. What pages can be edited for keyphrases (some folks call this “on-site optimization”)? Which pages should be completely rewritten?
  5. Is the tone, feel and benefit statement focus still appropriate for today’s marketplace?

If your company doesn’t have a content marketing strategy in place, I would highly recommend hiring a content strategist who can help you determine your content marketing opportunities and figure out next steps. This person doesn’t have to be a permanent member of your team; bringing on an outsourced vendor is fine. But as I mentioned in a previous post on my business blog, these folks will “see” opportunities that a technical SEO person won’t (which makes sense—technical SEO folks focus on code, not marketing.) Yes, this will cost some money, but much, much less than outsourcing your content. Plus, you’ll have a step-by-step plan for how to proceed.

Create an editorial calendar. The best-laid plans mean nothing without implementation. It’s one thing to know what to do. It’s another to actually do it. Determine who is writing what and the deadlines, then work with IT to figure out when new/edited content will be uploaded. A monthly editorial calendar is a great way to stay on track—plus, having everything written down makes everyone accountable.

Keep the momentum going. I know how hard it is to keep the content marketing momentum going when business is booming and everyone is swamped. Even if you have more business than you can handle right now, I encourage you to stay the course and keep cranking out quality content—even a few pages a month is good. And if your business is going through a natural slow time, using that time to build content is a powerful way to prepare for the upswing. Think about it: There is a high probability you’re getting the business you are because of your content marketing strategy. If you start to pull back and push content to the back burner, you’ll lose momentum—and possibly allow a competitor to “catch up” with you. Just remember the formula Momentum = Money, and you’ll be fine.