Content Strategy Framework
As a business in the 21st century, having a keyword rich blog as a content strategy has been the norm for several years. Over the years though, the search ecosystem has changed tremendously, i.e.:
User search behavior has evolved from simple keyword search, to looking for answers.
Millions of content creators are publishing content everyday, in different forms such as blogs, eBooks, podcasts, videos, etc., competing for visibility. This competition is only increasing.
Search engines, especially Google Search, have evolved from showing results to answering questions, and from ranking results for keywords to ranking results for topic authority.
The only thing which has remained constant is the purchase journey, i.e.: awareness, consideration and decision.
To target users effectively in each stage of the purchase journey, and to keep up with the ever evolving search ecosystem, simply publishing a blog is no longer enough. One needs to be the authority in the topic/topics touched by the business.
This is where a content strategy comes in.
What is content strategy?
A content strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve your business goal/s, by generating targeted content in a planned manner. This plan of action should include the following:
Your target audience
The target audience are the users who you are generating content for. The definition of target audience includes information such as their age, gender, location, industry, etc. This is not an exhaustive list, and can be in any form. To define target audience, use personas[link to persona creation when complete] compiled by your product marketing, marketing, product or design team.
Problems faced by target audience (and potential solutions)
Clearly define the problems faced by the personas mentioned above, along with potential solutions to these problems.
Unique selling point
Define what is unique about your product/s and your brand. If you are competing with competitors on similar content, then also mention what is unique about your content. E.g. Your company offers a free course if one signs up as a lead on a conversion content page.
Define what content formats you can, and would like to produce. These could be blogs, videos, podcasts, info-graphics, eBooks etc. This depends on several factors, including your budget, availability of resources, and competitor content quality, among others.
Content distribution channels
Define the channels where the above content formats will be published? E.g. eBook and blog go on the website, info-graphics go on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, podcasts go on the website and LinkedIn, etc. This also depends on several factors, including your budget, availability of resources, competitor presence, user presence, among others.
Define when the content will be produced, who will be the author/producer, and important specifications (e.g. exact URLs, Title text, H2, H3, snippets etc.)
If your plan covers all of the above, you should have yourself a solid content strategy.
What is not a content strategy?
Creating a plan of action for your content needs a significant amount of work. It requires SEO insights and technical support (in terms of SEO requirements and content hosting), brainstorming sessions for content ideas, and of course the actual production of the content itself, followed by tracking success.
It is not surprising that several businesses decide to skip the above, and go for what is justified as low hanging fruits, e.g.:
Publishing a blog.
Creating a content calendar.
Publishing research papers.
Releasing several pages with targeted keywords.
Sharing content over all social media channels.
Doing the above might get you some results, but just doing the above is not a content strategy.
Why do we need a content strategy?
Apart from the obvious reasons, i.e. generating revenue and staying ahead of the competition, a content strategy is required because of 2 main reasons:
Different users have different needs.
Search engine updates are getting hard to keep up with.
Let’s say your product or service solves a problem. A simple way to classify users will be:
U1 - Users who are aware of their problem, and are looking for a solution.
U2 - Users who are aware of their problem, but are not looking for a solution.
U3 - Users who are not aware of their problem.
U4 - Users who do not have a problem, but know others who might be facing the one being solved by your product.
U5 - Your current customers who have solved their problem, using your product.
All these users have different search behaviors, and hence different content requirements. On top of this, they are in different parts of the purchase journey.
Same is true for all potential users of your business. Let's say your business provides the fastest and most collaborative video calling application over the internet: Zap. As a business, Zap not only caters to enterprise customers, but also to small and medium businesses and to individuals.
U1 - Users who have a problem related to video calls, and are looking for a solution.
U2 - Users who have a problem related to video calls, but are not looking for a solution because the problem may not be obvious or big enough.
U3 - Users who are not aware that they have a video calling problem, and that it may be costing them their productivity.
U4 - Users who do not have a video calling problem, but know others who might be facing such problems. These could be friends, family, co-workers etc.
U5 - Your current customers who have solved their video calling problem, using Zap.
The above is a broad classification of users, who in case of enterprise and mid-sized businesses, followed by buyers (user could be a sales employee but the approval will come from the IT department and budget will come from department head). This makes it hard to generate content for all users. This is where personas again help in narrowing scope to a specific set of generic audience.
Apart from users' content requirements mentioned in the table above, changing search engine algorithms keep SEO and Content teams busy.
In 2020 alone there were 7 planned updates to Google Search, followed by more than 10 planned updates by June 2021. Some of these updates require technical changes to your content pages, e.g. optimizing pages to load fast on mobile, but most updates focus on making the Google search algorithm understand your topic authority, i.e. how deeply do you know scheduling as a topic?
While it is not possible to keep up with all search engines, and all their updates, it is possible to maintain topical authority in a systematic manner.
Topical authority is the quantity and quality of knowledge, of a company/brand, in it's respective business area. For your company,
The quantity and quality of your company's knowledge of the business domain (video calling in this case) will help carry content through all major search engine updates.
Who will create content strategy?
Creating a content strategy and executing it, involves several steps (which we will cover in detail in another section) and different skill sets:
It is rare that a content writer would have all the skills required, not only to create a content strategy and content, but also make sure the content meets all SEO best practices, and is optimized for all relevant keywords. Hence, the best way forward is to combine Content and SEO, to create a content strategy. In a broad sense, the roles will be divided in the following way:
SEO team informs, i.e. the SEO team provides the intelligence required to come up with a content strategy. This intelligence includes:
Researching keywords, search trends, and competitors, to discover all topics Zap could focus on.
Transform company mission and vision, and the research in the previous point, into topics which Zap should have authority on.
Using the same research, also define sub-topics under these topics.
Define best practices for title text, h1, h2, h3, schema-markup etc.
Build the technical SEO roadmap.
Carry out off-page SEO optimization.
Content team produces, i.e. the content team puts in the creative work to produce articles, content, videos, podcasts etc.
Transform sub-topics to individual articles or other appropriate content formats. I.e. Produce content and publish it on the CMS (Content Management System), while following SEO best practices.
Prepare content for distribution, i.e. infographics prepared for Social Media, one-pagers/guides prepared for demand generation, how-tos prepared for backlinks, blogs and case studies prepared for PR, etc.
Manage content, i.e. internal linking, updating content on existing pages (e.g. information refresh, updating titles, adding new relevant content), making sure SEO best practices are applied to past and present content.
Data, Design and Engineering enable, i.e.
Data team should enable SEO and Content teams to setup tracking, create dashboards and deliver insights. E.g. the data team can setup a dashboard to measure the success of the content strategy, as per the measures of success mentioned in one of the tables earlier.
Design should enable SEO and Content teams by designing pages for different content types and purposes, based on research and design best practices. E.g. a blog post design will be very different from a guide or e-book design.
Engineering should enable SEO and Content teams by ensuring technical SEO requests are developed, designs and tracking are implemented on the CMS, and the CMS is enabled for the content which the content team would like to produce.
From the above, we can summarize:
Content and SEO teams must create the content strategy together.
Data, design and engineering must be engaged while the content strategy is being created.
How to create a content strategy?
Define your goal
Ownership: SEO and Content Team
As a company catering to enterprise, small and mid-sized businesses and individuals, Zap not only wants to gain individual subscribers, but also wants to make sure that there are enough leads generated each month. Both subscribers and leads need incoming traffic, hence a logical strategy is to set the following content goals:
Generating new traffic to drive lead generation content downloads, leads and trials.
Increasing conversion rates from new traffic, to downloads, leads and trials.
Such goals cover the purchase journey, as indicated earlier in one of the table's above.
Content OKRs need to be derived from the company OKRs set for the quarter/year. For e.g. if the focus at the company level is to drive more individual plans, content needs to focus on generating more individual plan traffic and driving more trials, as opposed to generating more leads. So content goals for QX 202Y could look like:
Marketing KR: Generate 10,000 trials from organic traffic.
Objective 1: Generate 150,000 new visits from organic traffic
KR1: Generate 50,000 new visits from existing organic pages - optimizing existing content.
KR2: Generate 100,000 new visits from new organic pages - finding new keywords and generating new content.
Objective 2: Improve conversion rate to trial for existing pageType to 5% - running experiments to improve conversion.
Of course, the objectives and key results need to be validated before they are set in stone for the quarter. An example of validation would be understand, is there really an opportunity to optimize content on the existing organic pages mentioned in KR1 above? Maybe those pages are already rank consistently in the top 3 positions in the target markets?
Define your audience
Ownership: Data, Marketing or Design
Persona research is the best way to define your audience. Ideally, you want to ask yourself the following questions every quarter:
Do you want to keep the same target audience?
Do you want to target a new group of people?
Do you want to expand your current target market?
Based on the answer to the above questions, you will start to define your audience, ultimately filling in the blanks by creating personas.
Personas should ideally be refreshed every year.
Run a content and SEO audit
Ownership: Content team or SEO
It is possible that a significant amount of content has already been produced at Zap. Several pieces of the existing content are already generating traffic, and several others might need updates to become useful again. Hence, it is better to start with a thorough content audit. In the content audit, try to identify:
Find every piece of content which you already have - i.e. blogs, SEO pages, resources, help etc.
What is the goal of the individual pieces of content? - i.e. traffic generation, lead generation or conversion
How does this content perform? - i.e how well does it fulfill it's goal.
Classify each piece of content as ToFu, MoFu and BoFu.
Classify each piece of content by themes and by user persona.
For instance, the content team at Zap might have been doing regular blog posts since Zap exists. Creating an eBook that distills several relevant blog posts into one ultimate guide would be one way to offer information in a different format, without having to produce new content from scratch.
[Most Important]Generate content ideas
Ownership: SEO and Content team
This is the most important step. Generating content ideas is not only a creative process, but also an analytical one. The generated content must:
be relevant to Zap and to the industry Zap products operate in,
be relevant to the audience Zap caters to,
generate traffic, leads, trials and/or subscriptions for Zap,
ensure Zap's authority in topics relevant to the industry, from the perspective of search engines as well, and
be produced in a timely and reliable manner.
The following steps can be used to generate content ideas:
Step 1: Derive main topics; also called pillar content or hub page.
Start with Zap's (your company's) Vision and Mission, and derive topics which Zap as a company must focus on.
Zap's vision: Accomplish more.
Zap's Mission: Make collaboration friction less.
About Zap; Let's say that Zap as a company wants to make collaboration friction less, so that people can accomplish more with their time. Collaboration in today's world happens over video calls and meetings, and hence they want to make sure that people are able to not only communicate fast, but also collaborate while they are communicating. They want to improve the efficiency of all online meetings in terms of speed, while making sure that the meeting is supported by notes, relevant documents, action items, whiteboards, follow-ups etc, while keeping everything secure.
The above information offers the following insights:
Fast, secure and collaborative meetings are potential main topics.
Integrations in relation to online meetings could be potential sub topics.
Zap wants to influence user behavior before and after the meeting as well, so it would be interesting to focus on topics such as meeting notes, action items, following up, meeting recordings etc.
Step 2: Get monthly search volumes for your main topics/pillar/hub.
Use a Ahrefs or a similar tool to find keywords exactly matching or closely related to the topics from Step 1. For all relevant topics, note down the keyword/s and the respective monthly search volume. In the absence of tools such as Ahrefs, Google's free keyword planner can be used.
Searching for scheduling in Ahrefs' keyword explorer tool gives the following result:
Scheduling, scheduling software and scheduling app seems like potential fit for topics, with more results if you would click on View all 161,626. Note down the keywords you would want to consider as final topics, and their respective monthly search volume. I.e.
scheduling - 39,000
scheduling software - 12,000
scheduling app - 10,000
Similarly, make a note of the volumes for meeting:
While carrying out the above steps, keep an eye out keywords, which could act as sub-topics for your main topics, i.e.:
Board meeting, virtual meeting, pitch meeting, town hall meeting, etc. seem like keywords related closely to video meetings, which should be relevant to Zap, at least in terms of generating ToFu content.
Step 3: Define sub-topics; also called cluster content or spoke pages.
Again using Ahrefs or Google's keyword research tool, determine which long tail keywords or keywords relate directly to your main topics/pillar/hub. Record the search volume for these keywords.
Integrations in relation to online meetings could be potential sub topics.
Zap wants to influence the whole meeting lifecycle, so it would be interesting to focus on topics such as meeting notes, agenda, action items, following up, meeting recordings etc. These could be further combined with scheduling and meeting.
Scheduling and meetings are terms used not only in Zap's industry, but also in everyday speech. Hence it would be important to look for search trends related to scheduling and meetings. Let's look at meeting agenda as keyword in Ahrefs:
This gives some immediate content ideas, e.g.: meeting agenda template, board meeting agenda template, sample meeting agenda. If we switch to related terms, we can find some more ideas, e.g.:
Notice meeting minutes with a monthly search volume of 12,000.
You can think of more keyword ideas, by referring to your B2B persona research, and looking specifically for user pain points.
This way we can build a topic (or pillar or hub) with sub-topics ( or cluster content or spokes) around it. If one were to visualize this:
Important: Do not mix the above model with the URL structure of your website. Your URLs can be structured as zap.com/blog/sales-process-beginning-to-end for sub-topic and zap.com/sales-meetings for main topic, as long as they are internally linked contextually.
The visualization is good for understanding what you are trying to do with the content of the website, i.e.
However in day to day operations, it is hard to use the above visualization. Therefore, the following spreadsheet can be used to put the above into action:
The above sheet can be used quarterly, monthly or annually, depending on how many resources we have for content production. Start with the Home tab, and follow the instructions there.
Define types of content to be produced
Depending on the resources available, you need to decide what kind of content you need to produce. Some of the popular content types are:
Long form main-topic/pillar page.
and several others, including a combination of all the above.
Depending on which ones you choose to produce, you will need to update the Settings tab in the Quarterly Content Strategy Tracker Template (see following screenshot):
Publish and manage your content
Once you have all the topics and sub-topics captured in the sheet, it is time to decide the following:
1. When to publish which piece of content - typically addressed by an editorial calendar, this part can be managed using the Planned release date column in the tracker template:
2. Where to share/distribute the content you publish - typically addressed by a social media calendar, you may use the SocialMediaCalendar tab to plan distribution of the produced content.
With the above steps complete, you should be ready to start producing content.