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In content strategy, people often focus on the most obvious part (the content creation) and don’t quite realise that there’s a lot more to it.
Content strategy is a big picture that is made up of four main ‘blocks’. A burger (content) can be quite nice, but on its own it’s just a meatloaf. You need the bun, the cheese and the sauce to make it really tasty.
These parts all work together, and are made up of smaller ‘ingredients’ to make the whole.
The four main blocks of deliciousness:
Now we consider these to be a stack, with the one below required before we move onto the next. This is logical, but really all of these elements are interdependent.
If you don’t do analytics, then you can’t really measure any of the other parts. If you haven’t got a good Information Architecture and User Experience, then your content will fall flat. If you don’t have any content, you don’t have anything to distribute.
As mentioned, these blocks consist of different ingredients. I’ve mapped these out in the diagram below. Now we can look at each of these in more detail:
You can use this recipe as a framework checklist of your own, and add your own ingredients to it if you feel it suits. I'll go through my 24 ingredients in four phases below.
Phase one: analysis
The key questions to ask here are:
- What is my audience doing on site?
- And what are they (and my potential audience) doing offsite?
So the crucial step is to look into your analytics and then do some wider web based analysis.
You could become drowned in data here, so my advice is to be rough and tear through it. You want to spend enough time to get an overview, but you don’t need to be too granular.
1. Website engagement analytics
At this stage, all you’re really doing is looking at what content drives the most traffic and engagement. If you can get things like link data and social share data at a page level, these are both helpful.
One useful assessment is to quantify the number of pageviews in a category vs. the number of URLs. If the number of pageviews surpasses the number of URLs on these overlapping scales, then you have a category with a performance that is likely outweighing its editorial emphasis.
You should most likely spend more time on such categories.
2. Website organic traffic information
This is the analysis of which keywords and content are driving traffic to your site.
I’d normally go back at least two years (if you can) to get someway round (not provided) and to give yourself an idea of which keywords have driven traffic.
3. Keyword analysis
While I don’t really put much emphasis on keyword data expressed by Google’s keyword planner, it is a useful tool for returning further keyword ideas.
The data does at least give some indication of priority, but it’s quite difficult to assess each keyword for how difficult it is to rank.
These content tools can also be helpful in your brainstorming:
- Portent Title Generator (although this seems like a joke at first, some of the stuff it comes out with is genius).
4. Content mind map
Armed with your own site and market keyword data, you should now be able to build a content mind map, using categories and driving down to article titles.
For this I recommend using Mindmeister.com. For a small fee each month you can create unlimited maps and have multiple users collaborate on them.
5. SEO & social competitor analysis
Having mapped out your content, you should do a brief spot check on how strong your competitors are in getting their own content found.
The classic way to do this for SEO is to use Moz tools to find out domain authority and inbound links (competitor analysis is a feature of the subscription campaign manager).
On social media, it’s a spot check of how many connections your competitors have and how much they post.
Analysis phase goals:
- Finding out how your audience arrives at your site and where they are going to engage with content.
- Creation of a content mind map that is based on data.
- Finding out the real strength of your competitors in promoting content.
Phase two: taxonomy and audit
Most companies will use Wordpress for their blogging needs, but most companies also don’t really consider the Information Architecture (driven by taxonomy) for how anything but their newest content will be found.
Running a 100% news strategy is rarely recommended, and having a properly functioning and logical taxonomy is an important feature for allowing users to find content that was published before yesterday.
6. Category card sort
If a site has published 50+ articles, it is often very useful to get the editorial staff to run a card sort.
This basically means writing the titles of 50-70 pieces of content on index cards then putting them into particular groups or categories.
This gets the editorial team thinking about which categories they’ve been writing about, and potentially how much emphasis they are putting on each category. Your mind map from the analysis phase will also help with this.
7. Tagging amendments
When using Wordpress, there is almost always a problem with the tagging of content. Wordpress is a very flexible platform, but in a tagging sense it’s probably too flexible.
What usually happens is that editors tag content with a wide variety of possible keywords, many of which cross over with what already exists at a category level. This can create hundreds, sometimes thousands, of low value and duplicate pages.
Often an audit needs to be run to sort this out. As a general rule, categories are created around topics or subjects like ‘News’ or ‘How To’, while tags match to a ‘profile’ of a particular entity, like ‘Kate Middleton’ or ‘World Cup 2014.’
8. Menu restructure
Once your category and tags have been properly audited, it’s normally a straightforward process building hierarchical menu structures that allow users to better find content.
9. SEO onpage
Moving into the audit phase, one of the first things to do is to review current content and assess its compliance with good on-page SEO practice through four quick checks:
- Are titles keyword rich and well optimised?
- Are there inline links to other relevant content?
- Are images optimised through keyword rich filenames and alt text?
- Are there subtitles, using keywords?
Another good way to do this is to simply look at a sample of content and set yourself the task of understanding what it’s about in 10 seconds. It’s commonly true for content where SEO is an afterthought that it’s difficult to know what it’s about unless you are a regular user of the site (like an editor).
10. Evergreen content audit
This is an assessment of all the content that has a shelf life of anything over six months. Basically, all the stock content which isn’t news.
This kind of content can be extremely valuable in the long term, and it’s worth taking the time tweaking, optimising and sometimes redoing if it meets a particular customer need or interest.
11. Retrospective editing
If you’ve run these assessments above, you may find that there is quite a lot you can improve. For older content that continues to drive traffic or engagement, you may want to re-edit it.
Particularly, review the keyword targeting and formatting.
12. Authorship review
Much has been written on the importance of authorship markup for SEO. While it’s good to have the author’s face on search engines, it does not affect rankings yet.
Still it’s very easy to create the link between an editorial and Google+ profile, and well worth this small effort. To enable it, follow Google’s guide.
Additionally, you should ensure that author profiles onsite are filled out properly, with a profile picture and some text explaining the author’s expertise.
13. Taxonomy and audit phase goals:
- Make your categories and tags align to a logical hierarchy.
- Audit and re-edit/optimise existing content that has the potential to perform better.
- Ensure authorship markup is correctly implemented.
Content planning and creation
It’s now down to the phase where you can plan and create content, but before you dive into what many consider the most exciting phase, we need to go back to our analytics – particularly the mind map you produced in phase one.
This should serve as the basis of your plan.
14. Stock and flow
These two content types are best described as follows:
- Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
- Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
It’s easy to go for the latest in an industry and become a kind of news feed / blog. But this approach often runs out of steam.
If you can combine flow and stock content in your plan and assign them to content producers in an editorial calendar, you’re going to find it easier to keep the strategy on track.
15. Page types
Beyond merely stock and flow, we need to consider which page types will regularly be produced. Product pages (stock) could be included in an editor’s remit, and may consume time from their day to day flow activities, such as blogging.
The type of pages you have really depends on what industry you’re in and your customer needs, but much like our preference for flow content, it’s easy to simply use Wordpress post functionality to drive everything. Of course, if you’re writing a news item, and then a product review, these serve quite different user needs, so the pages need to be formatted differently.
One way you can build new page types within Wordpress is to use Advanced Custom Fields. With some development, you can have highly customised posts that break out of the standard post format.
Christopher Butler’s post The Way you design web content is about to change is the best I’ve read on the topic of ‘modular content’.
16. Editorial calendar
The creation of stock/flow content and your specified page types should be scheduled on an editorial calendar. Some people use Google spreadsheets or Excel, but I have a preference for using Trello.
Your web development team are possibly using this anyway, and there’s a very good free version.
Joe Williams of Blue Glass has written an excellent post on creating an editorial calendar using Trello.
17. Quantitive benchmarking system
You need to quantitate your content production. This of course means setting objectives at the start, but content strategy is really an iterative process. Thus you need fairly constant assessment.
Scoring your content can be along the metrics you consider important. Perhaps any of these could be worked into an objective set:
- Pageviews of content
- Average time on page
- Social shares
- Links built
There are of course more metrics that you could offer. But it’s not just about the performance of the content, the editors too should be assessed.
As a general rule, content writers should be able to publish 2,000 words a day worth of articles if they are sat at their desks.
But there’s also considerations around the type of the content. For instance, this benchmark is slightly irrelevant if they are working on a big idea or research for an infographic. Thus again you need to consider which production targets are really relevant for your team.
A useful list for assessing the skills and productivity of your content team.
Headlines account for as much as 80% of the engagement with a piece of content (particularly a written piece). Thus it’s important writers really know how to write them for the web. More often than not, editors I’ve encountered have used their intuition, rather than base it on training or science.
Unfortunately, this leads to poor results until they switch to the latter.
Here are three posts that are helpful reading to all editors:
- Five core elements of audience building content strategy
- 5 Data Insights into the Headlines Readers Click
- HEADLINE: A 9 Letter Cheat Sheet for Writing a Winner Every Time
This is connected to the audit stage, where I wrote about SEO on-page and the evergreen content audit. Basically it’s the need for all content to be well formatted for the web.
These basic tips should point you in the right direction:
Additionally the Creating Valuable Content checklist by Ahava Leibtag is also very useful:
Finally, while it’s quite an epic tome, you will probably not find a more comprehensive guide on creating content for the web than The Yahoo! Style Guide.
Content creation phase goals:
- Ensure that you are considering a range of formats and page types.
- Schedule these in an editorial calendar.
- Optimise content through sound headlining and formatting.
- Give your team quantitive targets.
The final phase is really about getting your content seen on everything but your own site – a combination of link building for SEO and online PR of your content, often through social media.
20. Distributable content
The first rule of distributing content is having enough great content in the first place. Unfortunately, rarely does this take the shape of product pages and blog posts, given they are very low cost and ubiquitous.
Often it’s more information rich content like infographics, video and long form that will do the trick. Thus it’s important that you include these in your planning phase.
21. Social media
When it comes to content marketing, most companies use their social media feeds to do exactly that: market their content by merely posting it on social. But it can be about so much more.
Lately we’ve seen the growth of some major feeds focusing on doing one thing particularly well. History in Pics springs to mind as the clearest example.
Consider that in your market you may be able to set up a number of different relevant accounts focusing on doing one thing well, but drip feed in your content at the same time. For more on this, check out my earlier post on five ways to avoid social media fragmentation.
Much like social media, companies often make their newsletter unspecific, and a collection of content that generally promotes their product.
Give your newsletter(s) a purpose by really defining exactly what stage of the customer buying cycle they should be used for.
Of course, through automated actions, you could be up and running with something of an Amazon style email strategy that meets customers at a multitude of touch points. It’s usually better to do this than merely sending a weekly or monthly newsletter.
23. Partner network
If you want your content to be seen beyond your own assets, be it your website or social media channels, then it’s worth setting up a partner network.
The important thing to do here is create ‘win/win’ deals where both parties will benefit. It’s no good creating a piece of content, firing it at people who you’ve never spoken to before, and then expecting them to place it. Most partnerships are based on quite a long period of nurturing, and often you will have to do something for prospective partners before they come on board.
I’ve written an earlier post on a four step process, but Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO: Growing Popularity and Links guide is a useful source.
Some recommended tools are below:
24. Paid for network
While strong partnerships will likely promote your work, there may be occasions when you need to give your content a bit more of a push.
Of course, unlike all the other ingredients in this recipe, this relies more on media budgets than manpower – thus it’s an anomaly in content marketing.
You could promote content on social media by using things like Facebook promoted posts. This can often be quite fruitful, given it will simultaneously promote links to your content and grow your followings.
Cost per click content marketing platforms like Outbrain and Taboola are also good at getting your content in front of people on highly trafficked sites, but they will generally offer less conversion/retention than using social platforms.
It’s also important to remember that your content will often be competing with at least three other links in a block for clicks often on a mainstream site. Thus, make your content widely accessible (broad picture rather than details) and focus on making your headlines as clickable as possible.
Distribution phase goals:
- Give your social media and email specific defined roles, beyond driving traffic.
- Create a network of partners within your niche.
- Use paid for distribution to give your content an extra push.
So there you have it, 24 different ingredients for my own content strategy recipe. It's taken me a few years of formulating to reach this recipe, but I've used it as a framework quite a lot and it tastes good to me.
Certainly other people may have other ingredients, so if you do, let me know about them in the comments.
Many of the images in this post were taken from End to Content Strategy in 15 Minutes on Slideshare.