Content marketing is one of those marketing tactics that comes up every year for many companies at their next big thing. Alongside social media and retargeting you’ll often find many businesses and marketing teams swearing up and down that this will be the year they really, truly, seriously, (probably!) lean into content marketing and develop a playbook that works. Unfortunately, this excitement and zeal for content marketing strategy typically begins to fall apart when the daunting task of figuring out where to start, how to execute, and what strategy to employ comes front and center. This is often coupled with the realization that content marketing is a longer term, organic strategy and doesn’t have that satisfying “A to B” return that something like a PPC or Email campaign does. That combination of headwinds often turns that early resolve to really dive into content marketing into what ends up being “a few blog posts” and little else.
In the spirit of turning a new leaf here in 2021 this post will explore some of the major stumbling points that early content marketing teams face as well as some of the best strategies and tactics you can employ now to get the most out of your latest adventure into the world of content marketing.
Narrow the scope
One of the most daunting challenges when embarking on a new content strategy is that boundless question of where to begin. It’s surprisingly easy to cook up hundreds of ideas for articles, blog posts, and white papers across a given topic, especially if that topic is something your business is expert in. While this may initially seem like a good thing it can quickly become overwhelming as you’re trying to figure out how to deploy your writer’s bandwidth and where your next best dollar is spent.
Start by setting a realistic goal that matches the investment you’re willing to make and the resources you have on hand. If your content team consists of two part-time or contract writers then it’s probably unreasonable to expect ten well-researched, well-written, pieces of long form content each week. So the first step in your new and improved content strategy is to figure out what your output goal is and stick to it.
The next step in narrowing the scope is to figure out where that previously mentioned “next best dollar” is going to go. In this context, that means deciding what topics you’re going to cover within the confines of your new output goal. This part requires a little restraint as many visionary types are prone to seeing the big picture but missing the incremental parts of the whole. One of the easiest ways to tackle this is to pick a single topic each week or month – depending on how much content you’re producing – and then make your goal to simply (but thoroughly!) cover that topic as best you can within that window.
Structure your ideas
The next step is to take the plans you’ve made now and structure them in a way that organizes your ideas and gives you a clear line of sight on the bigger picture goals. One of the common ways to do this is referred to as the “hub and spoke” model. This is a common organization model used in many different industries and concepts but it works just as well in content strategy. The core idea behind hub and spoke is that you create a centralized point or “hub” and then orient smaller but related objects or “spokes” around that hub. In the context of content marketing this model is a method for organizing your content assets as they relate to topics.
For example, you may run a local restaurant and event venue and you’re looking to build out some content to tell your story and build more of a brand. In this scenario, locally sourcing ingredients and materials is a major part of your business and something that you’re a bit of an expert in. Using the hub and spoke model we can take this broad idea and break it down into manageable parts. The hub for this idea may be “what is local sourcing and why is it important” and then the spokes explore facets of this idea. Here’s an example:
Hub: What is local sourcing and why is it important?
Spoke 1: How do we use our locally sourced ingredients?
Spoke 2: Who are our local vendors and partners that we work with?
Spoke 3: What does locally sourced ingredients mean for our customers?
Spoke 4: How does local sourcing help our community?
Here we’ve created five distinct pieces of content that fully realize the larger concept but do so in a way that produces more manageable content both for writers and readers.
As you begin building out these hub and spoke units it’s time to create a calendar. Rather than leave your content marketing collateral up to whims and moods you can easily take your organized ideas and schedule them into a larger calendar. So let’s assume that each week we can get five pieces of content collateral out the door. This means that each week we can complete a full hub and spoke unit. This means each month we can produce four units if operating at full capacity.
Based on this output schedule it’s time to revisit that huge list of ideas and start breaking those out into weeks and then outlining each week for what the five pieces to be written should be. Done properly, this process could easily fill an entire calendar year’s worth of content creation but it’s probably best to focus on quarterly increments to start to leave room for iteration and changes.
Getting content published at a regular cadence is one thing but to truly make an impact and see performance numbers worthy of your efforts you’ll need to make sure that the content is good! In this case, we’re not talking about your writing team, rather we’re talking about the totality of the content on the page. That includes images, videos, and other forms of media that set your content pages apart from the competition. In today’s increasingly saturated content marketing channels the incorporation of media within your traditional content pages is an absolute must.
When planning a content marketing strategy it’s easy to focus on the “content” portion as purely text. However, Google thinks of content in a much more diverse way and their definition of “rich content” includes integrated media like images and videos. This makes sense when you consider that Google has a dedicated image search function with an index of image assets as well as owns YouTube where most of the world’s videos are hosted.
While this may seem intimidating as content producers often hear “I need to find images and videos in addition to my text content” it should really be viewed as an opportunity. Look for natural ways to layer media into your pages and do what makes sense for the situation and your resources. For example, an easy way to take your “About Us” page to the next level is to add a photo of yourself or team. Considering creating some short videos that explain or show off your products to be included on your site’s product or service pages.
Be a pioneer
Oftentimes when beginning a new strategy one of the best ways to get your start is simply to imitate what others are doing and finding success with. One of the problems with this approach when it comes to content marketing is that saturation is a very real challenge when it comes to content marketing. If a topic is already being heavily covered or if there’s a large volume of sites already targeting a particular subject then it will be harder to gain traction with an audience.
When it comes to starting a new content strategy it often makes more sense to focus on answering questions that people are actively asking or try to supply content for topics that aren’t well-covered yet. This will give a bigger spotlight to your content and build an audience faster.
Stick with it
As a closing piece of advice and easily the most important on this list, sticking with your strategy and following through is key. Content marketing is a long term channel that requires significant investment and a willingness to persevere even when your strategy doesn’t yield immediate results or drive the kind of response you wanted. Most success content marketing strategies require months or even years of continual work and output to begin to see any kind of meaningful return. Make sure you appropriately set your expectations and go into it with the right attitude and game plan.