How to Develop a Killer Content Strategy in 18 Easy Steps

How to Develop a Killer Content Strategy in 18 Easy Steps

When it comes to content marketing, there is no question that it has a very high ROI for most companies. It’s also one of the best ways to invite your target audience to interact with your brand. However, it’s also true that everybody else is doing content marketing, and frequently a lot of it.

Because there is so much competition for consumer eyeballs, it is easy for even the highest-quality content to get buried on the Internet before it can do much good. For that reason, content marketing must be carefully planned and executed to ensure that it gets the best ROI possible.

The problem is that there are two types of companies:

  • 78% of companies that had a content strategy in place that said content marketing helped their business
  • 81% of companies dissatisfied with content marketing had no strategy.

That is why the easiest way to maximize your content marketing ROI and perform well against the competition is by having an excellent content strategy.

What is a content strategy?

A content strategy is a plan which specifies what types of content you will create, what you will discuss or portray in that content, and where you will publish it. A well-crafted strategy should also think about your audience and, specifically, who you will target with each marketing campaign. That you must constantly keep happy, or if you’re a larger brand that needs to create multiple campaigns that cater to a different buyer persona.

Similarly, a content strategy should always specify the goals of each campaign, as well as set budgets and timelines. Overall, the idea is to make sure that what you create is the most relevant to your overall goals and that you maximize your budget in a way that produces the best results.

Further Reading: What Exactly Is Content Marketing? And How Can It Help My Business? A Content Marketing Definition That Makes Sense

Goals of content strategy

Your content strategy essentially has one main goal — to deliver the best possible results from your content marketing campaign. That includes quality content distributed on the best platforms to make it successful. You should also make sure that your campaign is on budget and that it meets all of its KPIs.

With that said, a content strategy also helps you find ways to improve future campaigns. When your campaign fails to perform optimally on certain KPIs, you have an opportunity to improve for the next time. On the other side of the coin, if your content outperforms expectations, then you can see opportunities to capitalize on your successes.

In other words, a well-crafted content strategy helps you market your brand effectively. It does this by putting your individual campaigns on the right footing, as well as providing clear goals and other criteria by which you can measure success. And finally, a content strategy will help improve the performance of your content over time by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of prior efforts.

The benefits of having a content strategy

Let’s look at this another way. Having a content strategy is critical to making sure that you don’t just throw a lot of money after something that proves ineffective. While all advertisers invest money into underperforming initiatives on occasion, the object is always to minimize your losses. Content strategies help you do that by defining what success is and by helping you plug small holes before they turn into big ones.

How to Develop a Killer Content Strategy in 18 Easy Steps

Like so many other things in marketing, it’s easy to hear about the concept and think that is easier said than done. While there are certainly a lot of moving parts to a content strategy, putting one together is quite easy. In fact, the chances are that you’ve already performed many of these steps when forming a print marketing strategy or other related documents. You would just need to update the information to be more appropriate for the digital content world rather than a more traditional advertisement.

Of course, it might also make sense to include content marketing as part of your overall digital strategy rather than a completely separate document. Either way, the steps are similar to what I’ll discuss in this section.

1. Identify your target audience 

Identify your target audience

The first step in developing a content strategy is to understand whom you are creating content for and what their needs, interests, desires, and fears are. This will help you create content that resonates with your audience and drives them to take action.

For example, a younger person who loves to travel might react better to content that showcases a product being used in the context of an adventure. However, this might not work well for someone who enjoys the same product to keep children safe because kids get hurt when they go on adventures.

Your keyword/topic research should consider your target audience’s needs, interests, desires, and fears. It can also include questions like these:

  • Who are my ideal customers? You can answer this question in terms of any differentiator, like age, gender, or income level.
  • Where do they hang out online? Is it Instagram? TikTok? Facebook? This is where your target is most likely to see your content, so focus on those forums.
  • What are the problems that they face? Problems can be anything from getting a delicious cup of coffee on the fly all the way to juggling two jobs and kid’s sports or paying the mortgage.
  • What problems or challenges does my product solve? As with any marketing, you need to provide your audience with a value proposition. Typically, this is solving a problem or doing so in a better or more economical way.

These aren’t the only questions you can ask, but they are some of the most essential.

2. Define the goal of your content marketing effort

What’s the goal of your marketing? Creating brand awareness or driving traffic to your website? Or maybe you’re trying to generate leads through email campaigns. Whatever it is, define your goals before you start creating content.

Failure to have a well-defined goal is one of the best ways to throw money down the drain. That’s because you’ll likely have one random content marketing campaign after another and have few ways to judge their efficacy. Instead, quality goals help produce quality results. And when they fail, you’ll at least know where to improve for the next time.

3. Follow the sales funnel to create content

Now that you’ve identified your audience and defined your goals, it’s time to figure out which pieces of content will best serve those goals. There are a lot of options, both in terms of content type and the messaging you choose. Fortunately, the sales funnel can give plenty of inspiration.

You may already know where your customers fall along the buyer’s journey – Awareness, consideration, and purchase. Tailor your content to fit into the stage your target audience belongs to. For example, you might find that differentiating your product from a competing one will help convince your leads to become customers. Or, you might understand there’s a brand awareness issue, and address it with content.

Further Reading: How to Build a High ROI Content Marketing Funnel

4. Create a content calendar

Create a content calendar

Once you know your goals, you can begin planning how you’ll get there. An editorial calendar helps you organize all of your ideas into one place so you can stay focused and avoid getting sidetracked by other projects.

But what’s on a content calendar? It’s a bit different based on your content types and target delivery methods, but all of them specify what you will publish and when. For instance, I already knew what date I would publish this blog post long before it was even written! The same goes for my podcasts. Every date, content type, and the topic is planned in advance.

The one thing you want to watch with content calendars is that you sometimes need to pivot suddenly. Major world events and company changes sometimes call for adjustments. However, with proper planning, these contingencies shouldn’t derail your plans long-term.

Further Reading: How to Create a Content Calendar for All of Your Digital and Social Media Channels

5. Conduct a content audit

Before you start creating new content, take inventory of the content you already have. This will help you identify gaps in your content and ensure that you’re not duplicating efforts or creating content that doesn’t align with your goals.

Besides finding good content, you might also find low-performing content that should be removed from your inventory or worked over to make it more effective. In other words, not everything used in your new strategy needs to be new. Sometimes your content audit will find some unique opportunities waiting to be met.

Further Reading: How to Perform a Complete Content Audit for 2024

6. Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals

Once you’re done with taking stock of your existing content, set clear goals which will promote the KPIs. This will help you stay focused and on track throughout the content creation process.

As you set goals, make sure they’re consistent with your overall marketing strategy. Content is integrated into many different modalities, and you can use it in many different ways. Also, your goals should be well-rounded, making sure that you address all of your company’s needs in the right proportions. Otherwise, it’s easy for one type of content or campaign goal to take over and dominate your efforts too much.

7. Start creating content

Start creating content

With your editorial calendar in hand, you’re ready to create! But don’t just throw together any old piece of content. Instead, use the information from your audit to guide your decisions about what type of content to create and when. Remember, the content that you create will reflect on your company and brand for a long time. And as recent events have shown, this can come back to bite you.

On the other hand, think of your content as something that can also prove useful long after the campaign is over. Not only can you repurpose content, but people often come back to evergreen items repeatedly. You never know when something awesome will go viral, either.

8. Create the right types of content

There are many different types of content you can create, including blog posts, articles, videos, infographics, and social media posts. Choose the types of content that are most effective at reaching and engaging your target audience.

Picking the right content type is highly dependent on understanding your audience. For instance, if your brand uses humor in its advertising, some jokes can appeal to different audiences. Cultural references from a certain decade might work best for people who were teenagers during that time, and go over like a lead balloon for a different demographic.

Your internal analytics provide great information to guide your decisions on this matter. That is, past experience with other advertising modalities can provide insight into what kind of content your audience will enjoy, and what might not work well.

9. Create a content distribution plan

Once you’ve created your content, you need to have a plan for getting it out into the world. This could include publishing on your own website, sharing on social media, or distributing through email or other channels.

Keep in mind that you can distribute content through several channels. You might choose to distribute memes on Instagram, white papers on your website, and company news on Facebook. Careful planning can make many different distribution options work well for your brand. Sometimes more than one distribution option will work for the same content, and you might decide to do both in those situations. However, it makes no sense to create content unless you know where it will be used and distributed.

10. Promote your content

Promote your content

n order for your content to be effective, people need to see it. Use a variety of tactics to promote your content, including social media, email marketing, and paid advertising.

One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make when it comes to content marketing is relying on organic discovery for content distribution. In other words, they publish the content and then hope that people will find it. This works on a limited basis with people who are already engaged with your brand.

For example, if you run a YouTube channel, then chances are that a lot of people will ultimately subscribe to that channel. However, you must get to that point before organic traffic becomes significant. And even at that point, you always want to get new watchers and new subscribers. Your existing audience will only get you so far, especially in the long term.

Promoting your content can take several forms. A common distribution method for blogs can be posting a link to the latest article on social media channels. Likewise, you can use a pay per click or at to display ad method to drive people to your website, where they also discover your blog. YouTubers can pay to promote their posts, and this is an option on many other social media networks.

When forming your content strategy, the key is to determine which content promotion methods are appropriate for each type of content, and then choose the ones which you think will work the best. Naturally, your marketing budget will also be a consideration, as some distribution methods are more expensive than others. Also, you should ideally use more than one method, since more extensive content distribution will increase its overall effectiveness.

Further Reading: How to Promote a Webinar with Social Media

11. Select the right channels

Not every content type or distribution platform will work equally well for your audience. For example, the older generations may not be as interested in video content, and they are definitely in the minority on platforms like TikTok and Snapchat. So, for that demographic, you might choose Facebook or Twitter instead. Similarly, certain topics may be more appropriate for a particular forum, such as gaming material on Discord.

To maximize your success, identify the channels where your target audience spends the most time and then push your content there. He you can also use more than one channel as appropriate, such as when you need to use written and visual content. Not every forum allows for multiple content types. In this case, you’ll want to balance ways to get the most reach and the best value. Remember, the idea is always to maximize your return on investment.

12. Engage with your audience

One of the key benefits of creating content is the opportunity to engage with your audience. Make sure to respond to comments and questions. This lets you use your content to start conversations and build relationships. At the same time, content that’s posted on certain channels will get better treatment in the algorithm if there’s an active discussion surrounding it. YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook are excellent examples of this principle.

Another facet of this advice is that audience engagement builds a better brand community. When members of a community are able to help each other, such as by solving problems with a product or sharing advice, it increases the likelihood of community members becoming consistent customers or brand ambassadors. You can never underestimate the power of brand loyalty.

13. Create editorial guidelines

Create editorial guidelines

Editorial guidelines are a set of rules and standards that you and your team follow when creating content. They help ensure that your content is consistent, high-quality, and aligned with your brand’s voice and tone. Check out this sample editorial guideline from the BBC to get an idea of what one looks like in action.

It’s relatively easy to see why editorial guidelines are useful. After all, branding is so important in marketing efforts generally, because you want people to recognize that something is associated with your brand.

Some aspects of an editorial guideline will be the same regardless of content type. For example, you may choose to put your company logo on all content, including short videos and blogs, plus Instagram Reels or traditional posts. This is an easy way to mark your content.

However, there are other editorial choices that can change based on your platform. If you have short-form videos and long-form videos, you may be putting those on different platforms. Additionally, you can do things with one length of video that you can’t with another, your editorial guidelines should reflect this.

Another aspect of editorial guidelines would include the tone of your work, such as if your brand is known for having a sense of humor. You might specify that certain jokes are okay, while others are not, especially if your brand appeals to certain audiences like families or college-age adults.

14. Measure and analyze your results

As you create and publish content, it’s important to track and measure its performance. This will help you understand what’s working and what’s not. Then, you can make adjustments as needed.

Measuring results will seem complicated at first. After all, there are a lot of metrics that you can track. For instance, you might have a KPI that specifies a certain level of engagement. Alternatively, you might hope to get a certain number of leads or sales resulting from a particular content marketing campaign.

However, there are a lot of tools that you can use to measure those results, often in real-time. For example, most social media networks have a suite of analytics tools that are available, at least to content creators and business accounts. Typically, you can get numbers such as total engagements and the number of comments. For a fuller picture of your on-platform content marketing results, there is a host of third-party marketing tools that can help.

In addition, content items such as lead magnets can come with tracking cookies or utilizing customized URLs. These techniques track more discrete results, such as conversion rates or the number of leads. Over time, you’ll get a good view of what works well.

Finally, you can analyze results and see how well they conform to your overall content strategy. From there, it’s easy to maximize techniques and attributes that work best, while eliminating non-performing content. This prevents your company from wasting a lot of money on things that don’t work.

Further Reading: 10 Steps to Create a Converting Content Marketing Campaign

15. Use data to inform your decision making

Data is everywhere these days, and it can provide valuable insight into your audience’s behavior. Use analytics tools like Google Analytics to learn more about how visitors interact with your site and which pages they spend the most time on. You can also use this information to determine where your content needs improvement.

Of course, you’re not limited to just Google Analytics. Rather, there are many different developer tools for your website that can demonstrate the effectiveness of the content that you’ve posted there. And as I mentioned in the last section, custom tools like affiliate links and specialized landing pages can help you see your referral sources more clearly.

Once you have numbers, both for your website-based content and that, it’s much easier to see what opportunities you may be missing out on. For instance, you might find that your LinkedIn blog post has been more effective than you expected. You might also discover that your TikTok challenge was a complete disaster! Then, you can figure out how to do better the next time. In the TikTok example, you may find that the comments reveal what people didn’t like about the challenge in general.

16. Use the 80/20 rule to prioritize your content creation

Use the 80/20 rule to prioritize your content creation

The 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto principle, states that roughly 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results. So rather than spreading yourself too thin across many different areas, focus on the top two or three priorities.

The difficult part of applying this rule in your content strategy is deciding what your highest priorities will be. That’s especially true because each part of the sales funnel is important, from brand awareness all the way to advocacy. For a startup or a small business, brand awareness may be the biggest challenge and therefore clearly the primary focus. But as a business grows, there will be a greater emphasis on sales than brand advocacy.

That’s not to say that you should completely ignore your lower priorities as part of your content strategy. Rather, you put the most effort where you need it, while still furthering the lesser goals. Then, as your content marketing needs change, you can adjust your content strategy or alter the emphasis so that your efforts get the best possible ROI.

You may think that you know everything there is to know about your niche, but if you haven’t kept up with recent changes, you might miss opportunities to ride on the wave of trends. Especially in digital marketing, the trends can change quickly. For example, Google may make a drastic change to its ranking algorithm, or Apple might introduce a new privacy protocol that reduces the effectiveness of targeting iPhone users. And as we know, both of these happened within the last couple of years.

There are many ways to keep track of current trends. For instance, many of you know that I went to conferences regularly before the pandemic. My trips were both as an attendee and as a speaker, and not only did it let me pass on knowledge, but I could learn from other marketers. Trip shows have a similar role in other industries.

Of course, not all learning opportunities need to be as intensive. Simply reading the latest books in your niche or listening to podcasts and seminars can help you stay abreast of important trends. Then, you can apply what you’ve learned to your content strategy and make changes as necessary. When needed, you can even analyze existing content in the context of industry changes. That’s why I audit my blog posts regularly.

18. Keep improving and refining your strategy

Content strategy is not a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing process that requires regular review and improvement. Use the insights you gain from measuring and analyzing your results to continuously improve your strategy and make it even more effective.

Of course, changes to your content strategy may have reasons other than the success or failure of certain content marketing efforts. For instance, changes in your overall business strategy or your industry may necessitate a change of emphasis. Likewise, you might add to your product line or discontinue something that was unsuccessful. Besides regular reviews, many of these other events can and should trigger strategy adjustments as necessary.

Changes do not need to be major. Sometimes, you’ll find that only a minor tweak his needed to further improve your ROI. For instance, you might find that a particular content distribution method has stopped working, or that it’s less important than it used to be. Any kind of opportunity or threat to your marketing success requires a response.

Conclusion

The Maxim that a failure to plan is a plan to fail has never been more true than it is today. That’s especially the case in content marketing, because of its highly competitive nature and fast-changing environment. If nothing else, we marketers always have to watch the competition, both for eyeballs and for business. At the same time, rapid changes in the digital marketing industry mean that staying up to date requires constant vigilance.

Fortunately, as with most other business practices, having an effective content strategy will help your business compete in an increasingly difficult environment. Best of all, with careful planning and proper data almost any company can create a strategy that works for them.

Hero photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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