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Earlier this year I was asked to speak at the Brighton Digital Marketing Festival and host the content session during the afternoon.
After some consideration on what to speak about, I came up with the concept of ‘The Content Cycle’ – a process that helps marketers ensure they have a really good content strategy in place.
The Content Cycle as a concept is based on the way we work with clients and construct digital marketing campaigns. However, the process can easily be applied specifically to the subject of online content.
This can be used as a process for your whole content strategy, or you can apply it to individual campaigns.
What is the Content Cycle?
Put simply, The Content Cycle is:
- A way of helping to plan and implement your content strategy.
- A way of making you focus on objectives and audiences.
- A way of reporting fully on your content production and help to justify the ROI.
The process is visually represented in the image below.
Each of the different stages has distinct and important functions as part of the process, which must all be used.
The discovery phase is really your ‘investigation’ stage. It ensures you have all of your content fundamentals in place. This stage helps to guide your content strategy and future campaigns.
Technically, it’s outside of the cycle itself, but is just as important as any of the other phases. In many cases you may carry out this discovery phase just once. That said, it’s worth reviewing regularly or even conducting from scratch if you are going to apply this process to a one-off campaign.
The key areas for you to look at during this discovery phase include:
- Content audit. Audit your current content and build a S.W.O.T analysis. Consider areas such as technical limitations, structure of content, internal and external resources, user metrics, and competitor activity.
- Audience personas. Build personas for your various audience groups (if you have more than one). Who are they and why would they want to view (and share) your content?
- Popular content and opportunities. Use Google Analytics to review popular and unpopular content, plus tools such as Social Crawlytics to see what content is popular from social shares. Reviewing your internal site search, if you have one, can also provide clues as to what information or content people are searching for.
- Identify internal experts. Who are the experts in your business that could help provide content? Can they write content for you or even be interviewed?
- Repurpose content. Have a hunt around for any old content that’s not online (company brochures, photos that have not been uploaded, magazine articles etc.) then review if it could be repurposed on your website.
Once this stage is completed, then you will have a great handle on your current content and you are in a position to move onto the next phase.
Planning and setup
Now you’ve got a good base of knowledge about your current content situation, then this next stage aims to ensure that your content strategy or campaigns are well thought-out and have purpose.
The important areas for consideration include:
- The customer journey. What does your customer journey look like and how should your content best fit this? For example, consider which type of content is great for awareness and which type is better for conversion.
- Objectives and KPIs. Simply put, this focuses you on why you’re producing the content (objectives) and how you are going to measure its performance (KPIs).
- Tools for ideas. Which tools do you have at your disposal to help generate a wide-range of content ideas? Tools can include alerts, such as Talkwalker, topic trend trackers, such as BuzzSumo, and social tools, such as Topsy.
- Briefs. Ensure that you always produce detailed briefs for your content producers so they know exactly what you want produced. This includes elements such as the intended audience, dependencies, deadlines, objectives, keywords, and calls-to-action.
- Responsibilities. If there is a team of people working on the content campaigns then you need to make sure everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities. If you have a larger team, then pick and choose the people who have the best skills for the specific task.
- Environments, Think about your content and how it is going to be viewed. Will people be viewing it on a mobile device (or, in the future, even Google Glass or on a ‘smartwatch’)?
Having solid planning in place before you start producing content will help to maximise efficiencies and also the potential ROI of that content.
Execution is the actual ‘doing’ stage. It’s when you get a chance to now produce your content and promote it.
For execution, it’s important to consider areas such as:
- Basic content optimisation. Make sure your content is search friendly. Despite Google’s algorithm changes, it’s vital that your content can be found easily, recognised for its relevance and that users can read it. Make sure you check things such as H1s and H2s, image usage and alt tags, structure, readability, tone of voice, grammar and spelling.
- Content marketing or promotion – Consider all of the options you have available to promote your content. These may alter depending on the type of content and its objectives, however can include outreach and PR, paid advertising (PPC, display or social ads), social seeding and bookmarking, forums, email.
- Influencers vs brand advocates – Influencers can be really useful for helping to promote your content, however don’t forget about your brand advocates too. These are your loyal customers who have an affinity to your business and therefore are likely to share it.
- Make it shareable – If you’re going to the trouble of creating great content, then make sure that your users can share it easily. Ensure you have active social sharing buttons visible on your site and that they are optimised correctly to provide the right support for the shared links (correct page titles, relevant thumbnails and good descriptions).
Getting the content ‘right’ is important, but equally important is how you are able to promote this in order to give it the best chance of visibility to the right audiences.
Reporting, analysis and insight
So you’ve started producing your content now and are getting it out there, but is it working?
This stage is for analysing and reporting on what has happened as a result of your content campaigns and can include elements such as:
Content tagging. Tagging the URLs before they are promoted means that at this stage you can better report on the activity you did.
Use Google UTM tags on your content URLs, ensuring you correctly label the source, medium and campaign name. Then check your results within the ‘Campaigns’ section of Google Analytics.
- Metrics. Contrary to what some people think, the performance of content can be measured. There are a number of metrics to consider, including links (who is linking to your content?), reach (the number of ‘eyeballs’ that have seen your content), social reach, brand mentions and sentiment, Google Analytics metrics (traffic, time on site, etc.), conversions and assisted conversions.
- Reporting tools. For each of the metrics above there are a wide range of tools that can be used, including Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO (links), Google Webmaster Tools and tracking pixels (reach), Social Crawlytics and SharedCount (social reach), Social Mention or Brandwatch (brand or sentiment measurement).
This is the final stage and is vital in order to complete the cycle. At this stage, you take a look back at your content campaigns or strategy and review it, asking questions such as:
- What worked?
- What didn’t work?
- Did it meet your objectives?
Another useful thing to help refine your content is to gain feedback on your content from the people who you are producing it for – your audience. Look at your comments under articles, plus directly ask people via your social media channels.
You are bound to get the extremes of people saying they either ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’, but filter through this and you should find some gems of useful feedback.
Taking this information, you then combine it with the results from the reporting phase, then feedback this learning into either the execution phase, if only minor amends are required, or back into the planning phase if you need to start again with a different approach.
The cycle is complete
The Content Cycle is a simple process that can be adopted by any business, big or small, to help ensure that they are producing online content that reaches their digital objectives.
It’s vital that each of the phases are given equal attention, as they are all required to make the process work effectively.
Implementing it is a sure-fire way to not only improve the efficiency of content production, but also to prove that content can most certainly deliver ROI for your business.
To find out more about The Content Cycle then you can view the full presentation from the Brighton Digital Marketing Festival.