Are you thinking about starting a blog or investing in more content for your already existing blog? Awesome. *Does happy dance.* But pause right there. As promising as blog content is for growing your business, it’s something you don’t want to dive into blind — or you could potentially be wasting your time and resources. And that’s the last thing you need to be doing when you’ve only got so much budget set aside for your content marketing.
Whenever someone tells me they’re ready to do more with their blog, I encourage them to start with developing a strategy. An effective content strategy carefully maps out an approach that will drive the most traffic and build brand awareness and trust with your audiences, strengthening conversion. This ensures every piece of content you put out is intentional and drives results.
But you don’t need to pay a consultant to do it for you — putting together a content strategy is a fairly simple process, and as long as you have some time, it’s something you can do on your own.
Allow me to walk you through the steps I take so you can evaluate your existing strategy — or create a new one from scratch.
Why should you have a content strategy for your blog?
Great question. Let’s take a look at what you get out of a good one.
A blog content strategy tells you:
- Who your target audience is (there may be multiple audiences)
- What they want to read about and what they’re searching for on Google (There’s no use writing about a topic they’re not looking for it in search queries. In content, the answer to the famous metaphysical question, “If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a resounding no.)
- Which topics and keywords make the most sense for your business to go after
- What types of articles to test (interviews with experts, storytelling features, infographics, etc.)
- The requisite quality of your content
A good content strategy is never a final thing but a work in progress continually refined over time as one studies the results of one’s content. It is often filled with hypotheses and tests. I like to revisit mine every six months or so.
And once you have a strategy in place, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without one. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
Step 1: Interview your subject matter experts
This step is particularly important for those of you who are new to your company — but even if you’re not, it’s still a must, as you never know what golden nuggets of info you’ve been missing out on.
Who are subject matter experts? They’re the ones at your company who have a deep understanding of the product or service you’re selling. These may include technical personnel, product development engineers, customer experience managers, and product marketing gurus — you know, the nerds and the founts of knowledge who can tell you everything about your business going back to its founding.
At this step, your goal as the content strategist is to get an understanding of your business, its products, and its audiences. Some of the information you’re after includes:
- The value proposition
- All the product and service offerings
- Business goals (for example, growing a particular segment of the business)
- Major competitors
- Audiences’ paint points
- Buyer personas
- The customer journey
- The customer experience
- Reviews and testimonials
- Latest market research
Step 2: Interview frontline salespeople
It’s often the case that nobody knows your customers better than your sales staff. I love to chat with them to dig up pain points, barriers, and customer knowledge gaps. Ask salespeople what they find themselves having to educate customers about, or what they wish customers already knew. Make sure you have your pen handy, as you’re probably going to be getting the perfect list of mid-funnel content topics for your blog.
Step 3: Survey your clients
Now that you have enough information under your belt, you can conduct a proper survey of your clients, which will help you understand the mindset of your potential readers.
If you can manage to send out an email survey, by all means, do so, but nothing beats live conversations with clients, who often need to have their answers coaxed out of them. The goal is to find out what they’re typing into Google and at what stage of their journey. And once you build up a good rapport with them during the conversation, you’ll be surprised at the brilliant content suggestions they’ll throw out at you. You don’t have to limit yourself to past and present clients, but they’re usually the easiest to get in touch with and the most willing to help you.
If you have multiple types of clients, make sure to interview at least a couple from each audience category.
Ask them things like:
- When you first became interested in shopping for [insert your product], what sort of things did you want to know about?
- Did you go online to get this information? Where did you go? What phrases did you search for?
- As you became more interested in our product and wanted to compare options, what questions did you have? Where did you go to answer these questions? What phrases did you search for?
- What types of content do you regularly consume in order to help you with [insert the challenge you’re trying to solve with your product]?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you run into related to [insert your industry/product here]?
- What content have you consumed recently that you thought was very helpful? This could include video, podcasts, print publications, or email newsletters.
- If there was an email newsletter you could receive daily or weekly in your inbox that you would really value, what sort of topics would it include?
- If you were in our position and wanted to put together a blog that helped people like you who [insert challenge they want to solve or goal they want to accomplish], what sort of topics would you include?
- Whose content in our industry do you really admire?
|Helpful hint: Especially for you nichey BTB businesses out there, don’t assume your target audience is getting their information off Google because — while it’s rare — they may not be, and we want to make sure a blog is the best way to go for your business.
A Word About Post-Purchase Content
Please note that for the purposes of this article, the main purpose of a blog is to drive potential buyers to your website.
In a lot of cases it makes sense to use your blog as well for what I call “stay-in-touch” or “goodwill” articles for existing or past customers. This type of content is great for sharing on social media or in company newsletters and will continue to drive traffic to your website as they keep your customers engaged or warm.
It’s helpful to ask the following questions for topic ideas for this type of content. Just note that you may not necessarily see a ton of organic traffic with these topics, so I don’t recommend making this your focus but considering it to be a secondary purpose for your blog. In order to develop content current or past customers want to know about it, ask them:
- After you buy from us, what sort of things would you like to know about that would help you with your business [or insert another category of interest for B2C consumers]?
- What questions do you have about using our product?
Step 4: Create content audience personas
Now it’s time to gather your info and tabulate it in an easy-to-reference format.
In a table, you’ll answer the following questions:
- What challenges, needs, and questions are your target audiences trying to solve with content?
- What is their favorite type of content to consume?
- What topics are they interested in learning about?
And you’re going to provide this information for each one of these stages because it will be different for each one:
- Upper funnel awareness stage
- Middle funnel consideration stage
- Post-sale or post-experience stay-in-touch stage
You can create something like this for each one of your audiences:
|Who They Are
|Questions They Have
|Topics of Interest
Note that the lower-funnel conversion stage is absent here. That’s because this sort of content — sales content — does not belong on your blog. At this point in the funnel, potential buyers will be on your website, eagerly eating up your FAQs, case studies, and white papers; watching your customer testimonial videos; and getting kick-ass close emails from you to nudge them to a close.
Upper Funnel Column
Let’s look at a couple of examples. If you’re a cruise line, you’d provide information on traveling to destinations. If you’re an HR software company, you’d provide helpful information for HR professionals on how to do their job. At this stage you’re only trying to drive traffic from potential buyers. They’re not yet Googling cruise lines or software company names because they haven’t reached that stage of the buyer journey.
Middle Funnel Column
This is where your company’s research will come in handy, as now you know what sets your company apart from others and what questions people really have.
|Pro tip: Save the sales talk for when they’re on your product and services pages. At this stage you don’t want to be writing articles about why your company is the best at solving these challenges — you want to educate so that your readers will walk away thinking you guys really know what you’re talking about and trust you.
To use our examples again, if you’re an HR software company, stories from real users with practical tips would likely be well-received here. So would other HR-related topics that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your software but would generate goodwill because they address some of the most pressing questions HR professionals have in general. A cruise line could spotlight different destinations or attractions, making sure to include gorgeous inspirational photos, or — because branded is okay here — make announcements about new destinations or experiences.
|Pro tip: Save the press releases for a separate news page rather than your blog. Instead, turn company news into highly-engaging storytelling-based content that your audience would find interesting to read, perhaps by interviewing people who have already experienced whatever you’re sharing, plus their top tips. Or share news like Disney does on their blog — like a friend who can’t wait to tell others who might be interested — not like a PR professional pitching a story to a publication.
Step 5: Conduct a competitor content audit
This is where you take a look at what your competitors are doing in the content space. You may think you know who your competitors are, but you’ll be surprised to hear other names come out of your customers during their surveys. And if you use an SEO tool like Semrush, you’ll actually be able to plug in your website and see who your competitors are from an organic content perspective — not always who you’d think.
Step 6: Look at your lowest-hanging fruit
Most of us don’t have the luxury and time to create all-new fresh content for our blog. That’s why it makes sense to start with content we already have at our disposal, which could be turned into blog articles first for an easy win. Dig up some old e-books, newsletters, web content, etc. Round everything up and make note of the topics they cover for the next step.
Step 7: Topics & KW research for potential blog ideas
Now it’s time to test your hypotheses and see if there’s an opportunity to generate significant-enough traffic for the topics you think your audience would be most interested in learning about.
You may think you need an SEO-savvy person to do this step for you, but not necessarily. Keyword research tools are more intuitive than you’d think. I use Semrush, but there are other tools like Ubersuggest (quite easy on the pocket book) and Moz which should get the job done just fine.
You’re essentially looking at three things here:
- KW traffic
- What it is: How many searches a phrase gets every month.
- What it tells you: Whether or not you should bother with a keyword. If it’s a “long-tail” keyword, meaning a very specific keyword that someone ready to buy or someone perfectly suited to your company would enter, it’s okay if this is a bit on the lower side in terms of traffic. It’s an arbitrary number, but I try not to drop below 70 long-tail keywords. Otherwise, I shoot for at least several hundred. Keywords with traffic in the thousands tend to have high difficulty (lots of competition — see below) and may be too general for a blog topic.
- KW difficulty
- What it is: An evaluation of how difficult it is, based on various factors, to rank in Google’s organic search results for a specific term.
- What it tells you: Which keywords to prioritize. Aim for medium- and low-difficulty keywords. (To rank for high-difficulty keywords, you’ll need to have a robust backlinking strategy, which we’ll talk about another time.)
- SERP listings
- What it is: SERP stands for “search engine results page.” It’s the web page consisting of paid advertising and organic listings that pops up when you enter a query (your keywords) in Google or another search engine.
- What it tells you: What’s currently ranking high so you know how to stand out from your competition. Take a look at the quality of your competitors’ content — click on their content and see for yourself how well-written and in-depth it is, how professional their blog layout is, the quality of their visuals, etc.
Step 8: Final organic content strategy recommendations for high-impact blog content
I generally plan out 6 months in advance what I think would be the best topics, keyword groups, and types of content to go after. No need to do all your keyword research up front here — that comes later with content creation.
I’m going to include examples from a cruise line because at the time of writing this I’ve got pandemic fatigue and have been fantasizing about going on vacation myself:
Best vacation destinations lists
Geotargeted content: Best attractions, general travel guides, best time to travel to X city, hotels in X city
How to budget for vacations
Cruise-specific topics: costs, types of cruises, best cruise length, best cruise activities
Geotargeted content: Destination-specific cruise topics
Post-sale (for current and past customers)
Branded content: Our tip five most popular cruises for families/couples/newlyweds/spring breakers/etc.; best activities/attractions for kids, families, etc. per destination
Cruise tips: what to pack, what should you wear, how to keep the kids busy
Customer-centric announcements: spotlights on destinations and experiences
Your content strategy is ready … to change
Whew. You did it! Now it’s time to turn your list of general article categories into specific article topics and get writing. Remember, it takes about three to six months to start seeing results with new SEO tactics. One of my content mantras is EVERYTHING IS A TEST. So schedule some time on your calendar to regroup and carefully analyze your results in six months.
You may find that a couple of article types or topic categories are clear winners in terms of driving traffic and/or conversion, in which case you’ll want to ramp up production on these. Alternatively, you can stop wasting your resources on any content duds. You should also dig around again online in your space to see what kind of content is now ranking high, which may spark new ideas for your strategy.
The important thing to remember is that a strategy isn’t written in stone and continues to evolve as search engines algorithms, your competitors, and marketing trends evolve. This is what makes content strategy so much fun — and gratifying — when you start to see results.
Good luck! And remember, if you need a hand with your strategy or content along the way, you can always contact our team and we’d be happy to help.