How to create a content strategy: the basics

Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about content – why to create it, how to create it, and how to promote it on social media.

What we haven’t spoken about is the bigger picture. We haven’t told you how to create a content strategy.

‘Strategy’ isn’t the most exciting word in the dictionary, but it’s still important. Without a strategy, you’ll just end up firing aimless, pointless, directionless content out into the digital void.

A well thought-out strategy will give your content a fighting chance of succeeding.

Honestly, there are entire books on content and marketing strategy. It’s a big topic! So, we’re not going to get into the finer details here.

Instead, we’re going to gallop through the basic touchpoints you need to cover when you’re looking at how to create a content strategy. Use this guide as a strategy-starter – a quick primer to help you understand what’s needed.

We hope you like tables, because there are lots upcoming!

1. Establish your goals

You probably have a vague idea of what you want to achieve with your content. Something like ‘build awareness’ or ‘drive traffic’ or even ‘boost profits’.

That’s a great start. Now, you need to nail those vague aims down into clearly-defined goals.

Why is this important? Well, for a start, a lot of platforms will ask you to enter a specific goal at the get-go. They will then use that goal to promote your content in the most helpful ways.

But it also goes deeper than that. Well-crafted goals give you and your team clarity. When you all know exactly what you’re working towards, it’s easier to pull together and get it done.

Ideally, your content goals should be SMART:

SpecificVague goals are no use at all. Your goals need to be specific and well-defined. For example, rather than saying ‘We want to build brand awareness’, say ‘We want to increase our web traffic by 10% and social media following by 15%’
MeasurableFollowing on from ‘specific’, your goals need to be measurable. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea how your content is actually performing.
So, make sure that your goals are aligned to a measurable metric (conversion rate, for example, or follower count)
AchievableAmbition is great, but be realistic. Make sure that your goal is within the realms of possibility!
If you’re not sure what is and isn’t achievable, a situational analysis will help. We’ll cover that in a moment.
RelevantDon’t make goals just for the sake of it. Make sure that your goals are relevant for your organisation. Check that your goal ties into the wider needs of your company, as well as your brand values, culture, and so on.
Time-boundIf you leave your goals open-ended, you’ll undo all the hard work you put into making those goals Specific, Measurable, and Achievable. A timescale is important for understanding how your content is performing. It’s also motivational, and prevents your strategy from petering out.

2. Run a situational analysis

We’ve put this as step two, because generally the analysis comes after the goal. But if you’re struggling to define your goals, swapping these steps around might help.

A situational analysis helps you to understand the context of your content. A good situational analysis will tell you things like:

  • Resources and advantages you can leverage
  • Things you need to acquire/improve 
  • Wider issues you need to be aware of (for example, political or social movements which may impact your topics and/or need sensitive handling)
  • Niches you could occupy
  • What your competitors are up to

Once you’ve done a situational analysis, you’ll be armed with an understanding of what you’re working with. This will help you to pick the tactics, platforms etc which will get the best results.

There are two well-known frameworks which can help your situational analysis: SWOT and PESTLE.

This first table covers a basic SWOT analysis, with examples of the kinds of factors it may throw up. SWOT focuses on ‘micro-factors’. These factors tend to cluster around the organisation itself and its direct competitors:  

Great writerFantastic marketing teamAwesome graphic designerBig audienceGreat topicSmall audienceSmall budgetFormat limitationsNo/limited creative teamNew partners Emerging audiencesUnique offeringNew channels and/or channel formatsCompetitor activityChanging technologyChanging audiences

This second table covers the basics of PESTLE. PESTLE focuses on macro-factors – i.e. the wider market and global context:

The wider political context which could affect your content’s release or reception. For example, elections, referendums, war etcFactors like taxes, sanctions etc which could affect your content. For example, paywalled content is likely to perform poorly in a bad economy.Social factors like trends, culture, and socio-political movements. Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, are good examples of social factors.What technologies and/or devices will audiences use to access your content? What’s the wider technological scene, and how will it help or hinder your content?For content purposes, legal factors would include things like the potential for libel, intellectual property law, and so on.How ‘green’ is your content? Are you ‘greenwashing’ your brand’s practices in your content? How can you improve things?

3. Get to know your audience

We’ve spoken a lot about understanding your audience. We mentioned it here, and here, and again in detail here. All in all, we’re a broken record on the topic of audience research.

Honestly, though, it is worth stressing this point. At the end of the day, it is all about your audience. Give them what they want, and the rest will follow!

When researching your audience, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does your audience want?
  • What does your audience like?
  • What does your audience need?
  • Where does your audience hang out (Facebook? Insta? Blogs? Youtube? Email?)?
  • What are your audiences’ demographics?
  • What will encourage your audience to convert?

Content marketing is, ultimately, about building a relationship with audiences. Just like any relationship, a good audience relationship is built on knowledge, trust, and mutual appreciation. 

So, get to know your audience, and give them what they want!

4. Put together some tactics

It’s common to get ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ confused. Don’t do this.

Tactics are an essential part of any strategy, but they’re not the whole thing. Your tactics are the methods you use to enact your strategy.

Content marketing tactics could include:

  • Building targeted landing pages
  • Blogging
  • Guest-posting 
  • Starting a newsletter
  • Writing and promoting ebooks
  • Press releases
  • Interactive tools
  • Getting influencers involved

…and much more!

Your previous strategising will help you to determine which tactics will work best for you. 

For example, if your goal is to build your following, your situational analysis has revealed that you have a great social media team, and you know that your audience likes to hang out on Facebook at 8pm, scheduling and promoting Facebook posts around 8pm could be an effective tactic.

Analyse, analyse, analyse!

Think back to Step 1 (Establish Goals). Remember the ‘M’ of those SMART goals? 

This is where that M comes into play. Ideally, way back when setting your goals, you will have established which metrics to pin them to.

As your content campaigns run, they’ll generate a continuous stream of data. Depending on the platforms you’re using, that data will be organised and presented to you in the form of analytics (we’ve gone into how Facebook does this here).

You can use these analytics to track campaign performance. If your metrics aren’t showing the numbers you wanted, continuous analysis will help you to go in, test, and tweak. 

At the end of each campaign, it’s well worth taking a deep dive into its performance metrics. This will give you valuable insights, which you can use to inform and improve your next campaign.

Want help executing your strategy? Get in touch!

If you need help getting your strategy off the ground and onto the web, give us a shout! We can help with your website, your blog, your social media…We can even write your content for you if you want! Get in touch, and we’ll see what we can do for you.