Follow These 5 Steps to Start Building Your Content Strategy
Imagine you’re planning a road trip. You’re excited for the adventure ahead, but you’re also nervous because there’s so much to consider. Luckily, we live in a world where information can be accessed with a simple click of a button. Have a question you’re trying to answer? Type it into a search engine.
That checklist to help plan your route… content. That video tutorial on how to change your car’s oil… content. Those Instagram posts with images of must-see landmarks… content. Those review articles to help you choose the right pair of hiking boots… content.
If your goal is to build trust with your audience and keep them coming back to your site, you need to create high-quality content that informs, entertains, educates, and inspires. Much like a road trip, a lot of work goes into creating a single piece of content: research, planning, editing, distribution, and more. This can feel laborious or complicated—especially if you’re working solo.
A content strategy is a structure that guides your marketing from the beginning stages to post-publication. In order to make your inbound marketing efforts smoother and more rewarding, it should be repeatable, organized, and agile.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through five steps to creating an effective content strategy:
- Conceptualize content
- Plan a timeline
- Create a workflow
- Review and edit content
- Organize and store content
1. Conceptualize content
When generating content ideas, do some online research, like reading blogs related to your industry or checking out content marketing survey results. Another option is to write down frequently asked sales questions or important industry knowledge that would be helpful for your target market to know.
As you gather ideas, focus on creating content for every stage of the buyer’s journey—awareness, consideration, and decision.
In the awareness stage, a prospect is experiencing a problem or opportunity. They’re doing research to more clearly understand, frame, and give a name to their problem. They’re looking for educational content to help them answer some of their questions and concerns—think blog posts, e-books, and how-to webinars.
In the consideration stage, a prospect has clearly defined their problem or opportunity. They’re committed to researching and understanding all available approaches, so create content that positions you as an expert. Demo videos, case studies, and FAQ articles are great resources to build relationships with readers and establish trust.
In the decision stage, a prospect has decided on their solution method, or approach. They’re compiling a long list of possible vendors and products. They’re researching to trim down this long list into a short list and ultimately make a final purchase decision—and that final purchase decision could be you. So provide them content such as free trials, consultations, and articles that provide education on your products or services.
Let’s take a look at a complete buyer’s journey from child development expert, Maren Schmidt. To start, here’s an overview of Maren’s primary buyer persona, Montessori Mom Meena
Keeping these details in mind, let’s review Meena’s buyer’s journey. You know it’s important for Meena to do what’s best for her children. So what about an awareness stage e-book that offers a list of parenting problems you can avoid? This is something that would bring value to Meena’s search.
Once Meena knows what to avoid, she’ll be looking for more content. What about following up with consideration stage information like a questionnaire regarding family needs to better understand a possible solution—in this case, Montessori? The questionnaire outlines both the needs of the child and the parent.
At this point, Meena needs a little more information to progress to the decision stage— something that educates her more on preparing for Montessori. What about a free workshop that explains how to prepare your home the Montessori way? That could do the trick.
With a solution to her problem, Meena’s ready to make a decision. What about offering her a one-hour consultation to discuss next steps for her child? That could be a helpful service to offer Meena.
That’s an example of a complete buyer’s journey.
The more you learn about your buyers, the more you’ll be able to refine their journey over time. It all starts with first identifying content needed to complete the buyer’s journey, which you can then plan out over the course of a year to keep your output sustainable.
2. Plan a timeline
When putting together a timeline, you’ll want to have a clear plan while maintaining some flexibility. For example, when planning content creation over the span of a quarter, try to have at least two or three lead generation initiatives that you can organize by buyer’s journey stages.
Always keep your goals in mind. Is the focus for this quarter increasing leads? Improving the conversion rate for your sales team? More blog traffic?
From there, map out what content you need and when it needs to be live. This will give you a sense of the resources you’ll need to get it done. You can also use your goals to decide if you need some external help from freelancers.
Let’s review how Maren Schmidt plans and organizes content creation.
You can see that Maren has listed her goals for January, February, and March as part of her content strategy. Each goal is clearly defined and measurable, like “complete 75% of enrollment for workshops.”
Notice that Maren also has a theme she’s going to focus on for Q1: Montessori for parents, teachers, and principals. You don’t need a theme to extend for an entire quarter; a monthly or weekly theme could work just as well. The point is to have some overarching direction that can guide what you create.
Next, Maren has identified an inbound marketing campaign that’s both relevant to the overall theme and brings value to her target customer. The blog post topics in the calendar directly connect with the inbound marketing campaign and upcoming workshops.
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record when I mention how each column relates to the next, but this is what your content organization should look like. This approach ensures your message stays consistent across platforms.
3. Create a workflow
In your content strategy, workflow is just the sequence of steps that takes an asset from ideation to publication. Your workflow should clearly identify who will do what.
Since creating a piece of content involves multiple components, you’ll want to get granular with your steps—even if you’re a team of one. This way, as you get more resources and set more ambitious goals, you’ll always have a clear process.
If you’re producing an e-book, for example, here’s a workflow template to get you started:
1. Complete outline
2. Write first draft
3. Edit first draft
4. Write second draft
5. Complete design and formatting
6. Approve final draft
Here’s a pro tip: Think about how you created an asset in the past before you had a content strategy. Consider what went well, what roadblocks you hit, and what tweaks you can make to avoid those roadblocks next time. Document your thoughts, and create a workflow based on that. You can always change your workflow steps as your content evolves.
This is the User Blog’s editorial calendar. It’s organized in a Google Sheet. We create each month’s calendar one month in advance so that all writers and editors get plenty of notice before their deadlines.
The “Publish Date” and “Publish Time” are documented so that editors know what date and time to schedule their posts for publication. Then there’s the “Due Date” column. This is the date the writer needs to submit their article so each editor gets a full week to review.
The writer is responsible for writing their article and getting it in on time—so their name is documented in the “Responsible” column. In the “Blog Post Title” column, writers enter their proposed title or—if they don’t have a title in mind yet—they enter a quick blurb on what they plan to cover. Then in the “Description” column, they enter a short sentence or two summarizing the piece.
The next column asks writers to enter a word or two about what HubSpot tools or products their post highlights. This way, they can make sure writers create articles that educate and inspire HubSpot users. Also, the editor will use these words as tags when they edit the blog post.
4. Review and edit content
You need a reviewal system in place so your content is accurate, well written, and aligned with your brand. Aside from having talented writers and editors, there are a few simple steps that everyone can follow to boost the quality of their content.
Set clear expectations. The reviewer should know what they’re looking for: grammatical errors, fact-checking, story gaps, word choice, and more.
Define roles. Each person should know what they need to do. Maybe you have a developmental editor looking at story and structure before a copy editor goes in for detailed edits. Or maybe you have a single editor reviewing everything. Whatever your team looks like, clearly defining who does what will eliminate confusion.
Determine a timeline. With so many people involved in the creation process, set due dates and a project timeline so that each person is held accountable for their contribution. One missed deadline affects everyone’s work. To keep your team agile and conscious of their deadlines, share a rough timeline with the team and get everyone’s buy-in.
Use a style guide. Your content needs to be consistently authentic, well written, and aligned with your company’s brand—even among various writers with different writing styles, skill levels, and voices. A style guide is that common thread all content reviewers can use so that their edits establish consistency across a diverse group of writers.
Here are some descriptions to getting started with your content style guide, from the inbound marketing agency IMPACT. Voice, tone, and style each serve a particular purpose for your content strategy, and they are all dependent on each other.
Track edits. Whether you have one editor or a whole team of editors, have reviewers add comments or suggestions by tracking changes as opposed to making edits directly. This way, creators know where to make changes and can understand what to do differently next time.
Manage progress. Use some sort of document or project management software to track progress. This document should reflect the roles, timeline, and deadlines you’ve determined for your reviewal process. Since you could have a team of people working together on a final product, tracking the reviewal progress provides transparency across the team and keeps all stakeholders on the same page. It also allows for agility so that you can remain flexible and adjust deadlines if need be.
Optimize for search. You put a lot of effort into creating your content, so it pays to make sure your audience can find it. After your content is created, do some spot edits to search engine optimize your content. This could involve swapping out some words for keywords or maybe having an SEO specialist optimize specific sections.
5. Organize and store content
Once your work is complete, store it in a centralized location where your team can access it—like Google Drive or Dropbox. If you have a content management system, also known as a CMS, then you could choose to store it there as well.
Organizing your content in a way that’s easy to understand is critical for repurposing, reusing, or even finding that content down the line.
One way to organize is to develop a clear naming system. A sample system could include:
- Content format
- Buyer’s journey stage
While you can choose a specific naming convention for hosting files, the goal should be to easily access your content when needed.
Keep in mind, your content strategy should always evolve. Your business’s goals will vary from quarter to quarter and year to year, so your content should adapt with those changes. On top of that, content marketing is always changing. Stay up to date on industry trends and best practices so that you can incorporate them into your framework.