As web developers we see our role as just one part of a much bigger equation. A website is merely an enabler for a whole host of fundamental business tasks, so we would like to offer our insight on one of those fundamentals: content creation. This article will focus on the top-level strategy you need to give your content every chance of success, while the second installment will drill down into the detail of what makes good content and how you can create it regularly.
Why create a content strategy?
Let’s just take ‘content’ out of the equation and think for a moment: why do we need a strategy for anything? It stands to reason that if you set a plan to achieve a certain outcome you are more likely to achieve it than if you didn’t plan at all. As obvious as this may sound, when it comes to content, we see this logic being thrown out of the window time and again. Clients agonise over every last detail of a website design and logo but then treat the content as an afterthought.
Did you know?
The most successful marketers dedicate at least 39% of their marketing budget to content.
The amount of money that major companies spend on their content marketing really does say it all about how important it is to the overall mix. Last year, MarketingProfs reported that the most successful marketers dedicated at least 39% of their marketing budget to content. This article will merely discuss the basics of content strategy, but as you can imagine $300 billion industry, there are plenty of in-depth resources to help you along the way. This template by Moz gives a good idea of what a content strategy might look like in practice.
A bit more about strategy
Even the smallest of operations needs a robust content strategy. It can be easy for a new or growing business to put off making a content strategy until a day when the business is more stable, but this really is a missed opportunity to take control of an important business operation. The right content strategy can be scaled up or down inline with the evolution of the business - it really shouldn’t be seen as a rigid structure that doesn’t allow for change. In fact it should be subject to regular review.
Content is a business operation
Think of content as a business operation that needs to be rationalised like any other, i.e. “what business goals will this help us achieve?”, “how much do we need?”, “who can deliver it?”, “how much will this cost?”, “how do we measure success/failure?”. Another common mistake we see people make is to assume that any content is better than none, but this really is the wrong attitude. Like any other business operation, it must be cost effective, time efficient and achieve enough benefit for it to be worthwhile. Poor content is quite simply a waste of time.
Set the right goals
Without the right goals, any strategy becomes useless. This is the all-important part of the planning stage that ensures you can measure the worth of your content long after you set the strategy. The SMART goals system is a universally accepted methodology, where a goal must be:
- Specific (“We intend to increase website traffic...”)
- Measurable (“by 15%.”)
- Attainable (“If our content is good enough and there is enough of it, this is achievable.”)
- Relevant (“Using our existing conversion rates, we can predict that if our blog delivers a 15% increase in traffic we will hit our revenue targets.”)
- Time-bound (“We want to see this increase in 6 months.”)
As well as helping to rationalise your content, goals can provide compelling evidence to persuade key decision makers to take positive action, i.e. increase funding for content, hire additional resource etc.
Appoint a content manager
Accountability is vital to keep the content strategy on track. Even if you intend to outsource all of your content creation, someone needs to have their hand on the tiller. Having one person as the go-to authority on the site will ensure there is consistency in tone and quality, and that each piece of content is delivered inline with the strategy objectives.
A content manager certainly doesn’t need to produce all of the content in order to do this. Although in smaller organisations it can sometimes be the case that the content manager is also the main producer of content, it’s important to draw the distinction here between the day-to-day production of content and the strategic management of it. The content manager doesn’t need to be a highly trained senior member of staff - it just needs to be someone capable of providing a link between the top-level strategy and the day to day.
Set a budget
Whatever the size of your business, you need to set a budget. The last thing you or your content manager needs is uncertainty about whether you have the resources to deliver on the strategy. If it transpires that you will not have the money to sustain the content strategy in the long term then quite simply, you need to change the strategy. The time to have these conversations is at the point of creating the strategy, NOT when you are in the middle of executing it. The everyday production of content really should not be subject to the constant approval of senior management.
A bit more on content-marketing budgets can be found in this article.
Time is money
Having set the budget it can be easy to forget about the time it will take to execute the strategy. Does the content manager actually have time to manage the process properly? Will the production of content be stopped because of employees who are too busy with other tasks? Resources should be dedicated in the same way as you did with the budget. Think of this as a “time budget” rather than a financial one.
There is a whole book we could write on the topic of SEO (instead of waiting for the book, we recommend this article as a good starting point), but for now we’ll focus on how it can help rationalise your content strategy. Whatever the size of your organisation, it is worth spending the money to do this properly. A small business may not think that it is worth paying a marketing expert for one or two days’ work, but in our experience it is absolutely essential.
Key phrases from a proper SEO analysis are more than just useful things to add to website content - they also provide a great summary of your audience. This is the all-important first link in the chain. Using search terms to measure the wants/needs of the marketplace allows you to properly gauge what your organisation needs to do next, and the content strategy will play a fundamental part. How can you create a coherent content strategy without truly knowing your audience?
Initial brainstorming & ideation
Drill down from the SEO analysis to create a specific content plan. In the case of blog posts, this is where you would create a list of possible headlines & topics. Each piece of content listed here should be linked to a particular category and context, i.e. “customer information”, “generate new leads” etc.
Being specific about your content at the earliest stage is a great way of interrogating the budget to make sure you actually have the resource to produce it. At this point it may become apparent that you need to hire a freelancer to create content about a particular topic.
When to get the professionals in
This will of course depend on the size of your company and the skillset of your employees, but in most cases we would recommend you outsource your SEO analysis at the very least. SEO & competitor analysis really is fundamental to the application of a content strategy, so it’s important to get it right.
When it comes to actually producing the content it’s worth reiterating the point that even if you outsource all of it, you need a content manager to oversee the whole process. Without this you run the risk of wasting money on unfocused content, not to mention the potential waste of time and money you may have spent creating a strategy that you didn’t stick to.
Creating a specific strategy for such a long way into the future can look daunting, but as we have outlined above, each step of the strategy is actually quite simple. By taking the time to set a plan you will remove the biggest obstacles in the way of creating top-quality, regular content.