I might be a little biased, but I believe in the power of a content marketing strategy to bring in new customers, educate users, drive revenue and help build a powerful brand for any business.
Hell, I’ve been doing it for years and have seen first-hand just how effective content marketing can be. And I’m not the only one…
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2B marketers surveyed say they are creating more content this year than they did in 2016, with the trend showing no signs of slowing down today.
However, while pretty much every small business and startup understands the value of content marketing, it can be a scary thought to dive right in. Your competitors or the people you look up to are regularly posting long-form, in-depth blog posts, launching podcasts, or dipping their toes into the world of video, and it seems overwhelming.
Today, we’re hoping to get rid of some of that pressure you’re feeling and simplify the process of creating a foolproof content marketing strategy.
What is a Content Marketing Strategy?
A content marketing strategy is a roadmap that not only tells you what content pieces you’re going to create, but how you’re going to create them, promote them—and ultimately use your content to attract, retain and convert more readers and viewers into customers for your business.
It’s a big task, but one that you shouldn’t be afraid to tackle.
Each part of your content marketing strategy has its own unique nuances and details that you won’t want to miss. So, let’s look at each part of the process and I’ll be adding my own expertise along the way.
How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy in 10 Easy Steps
- Define Your Content Marketing Goal
- Research and Understand Your Audience
- Set Up Your Blog (If You Don’t Already Have One)
- Update Your Current Content (If You’ve Already Been Publishing)
- Start Building an Email List and Know How You’re Going to Use It
- Update Your Current Content (If You’ve Already Been Publishing)
- Brainstorm Content Ideas and Use Keyword Research to Find Opportunities
- Decide Which Format of Content You Want to Produce
- Outline Which Content Marketing Strategies You’ll Experiment With
- Use Paid Ads to Get Extra Eyes on Your Content
Now, let’s dive in!
Before you look at what you’re going to create, you need to answer why you’re making it.
Every content marketing strategy starts with the goal. How are you going to measure the success of your campaign? Is it with traffic? New subscribers? App downloads? Conversions? Social shares and engagement? Video views? Podcast downloads? Sales?
“You have the freedom to make these choices at the beginning when they’re free, fast and easy. Not later on when you’ve made commitments to other people and yourself.”
It’s easy to get caught up in all the tactics of content marketing, but without a unifying strategy—a strong why, no matter what you create it will fall flat.
Understanding your goal early on will guide other important decisions as you develop your content marketing strategy.
Such as, what are we making? And where are we going to distribute our content? As Godin explains, your strategy is like building a ship. You need to know where it’s going to sail before you can start nailing planks of wood together.
As Godin emphasizes, “Matching what you build to where you put it is more important than what you build in the first place. That’s why we need to start by understanding what is this for?”
When I’m brought on to build out a content marketing strategy for one of my clients, whether it’s a freelance gig or through my side project, Pro Content Marketer, we always start in the exact same place—with defining an ultimate goal and then backing into smaller mini-wins that ladder up to the bigger picture achievement.
Most often with content marketing, that ultimate goal is email signups or free trial signups.
Essentially, attracting new readers through clever blog post ideas (content), then converting them into email subscribers who can later be warmed into paying customers as the rest of the marketing team works to build relationships and make money blogging.
Once you have this larger goal in place, it’s easier to determine—based on your average conversion rates—how many readers or listeners, viewers, users, you need to attract to the content you’re publishing, in order to hit your signup goal.
The number of people you need to bring to your blog is your traffic goal.
And in order to bring in enough of the right traffic to hit your conversion rates, you’ll need to promote your content—landing syndications to publications, getting mentions in major industry blogs, having influencers share with their followers, and so on down the line.
It’s not an exact science per-say, but the more you execute, build a portfolio of content and promote it, the more you’ll see what your baseline returns on content marketing are and you can make tweaks & experiment moving forward.
Once you have a clear connection to why you’re making content, the next step in building out your content marketing strategy is to understand exactly who is going to see, hear, or watch the content you create.
Effective content is not produced in a vacuum from a list of topics you personally want to write or talk about, it’s made out in the open with the involvement, feedback, and direction of your audience. The best content marketing strategy is designed to answer the most pressing questions your target audience has—to educate and transform them.
However, the only way that your content will connect enough with people to have them share it and help you reach your goals is for you to speak directly to them. You need to have empathy and understanding for their situation.
The first step is to understand the demographics and psychographics of your ideal audience.
Demographics are the quantitative traits, or things you can really dig into and measure.
Think age, gender, location, job title, etc. For example, you might say you want your content marketing to speak to executives aged 30–45, or 20-something seekers of remote jobs just out of college.
Psychographics are the things we can’t measure.
Attributes like attitude, belief systems, values, and interests. So in our executive example, we could go a step further and say that our content speaks to executives who want to take their business to the next level but can’t find a way. Or maybe that they believe in hard work and doing the right thing and value family and strong morals.
Creating Your Audience Personas
Now, let’s talk about buyer personas—the fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. These personas are constructed with the goal of internalizing who your ideal customer is, and gives you an idea of how to relate to these people as real humans.
For each of the audience personas you’re creating, write out their (demographic and psychographic) attributes on a bulleted list.
Next, you want to visualize exactly who this person is. Goulet suggests using a stock photography site like Unsplash or Pexels to find a photo of the person you’ve just described. It might seem a bit silly, but this will seriously help solidify your vision and create more of a connection between you and your ideal audience.
Lastly, you want to take that photo, the bulleted list and write a story about them in paragraph form, that really describes the environment and the feelings that your persona lives in. Give them a name and describe their day-to-day activities.
How does your content not only fit in, but get found and recognized by this person?
- Are they searching for it on Google or do they use community sites like Quora or Reddit to source answers & ideas?
- Are they heavy Facebook users or do they spend most of the time on apps like Snapchat?
- Maybe they don’t spend much time online at all, and prefer attending in-person events, industry conferences, group discussions?
Developing a clear understanding of who your audience is, will help immensely in crafting the right messaging and nailing the storytelling in your content marketing efforts.
Be present where your audience already exists.
These are all critical questions to address during the creation of your content marketing strategy, so that you can maximize your opportunities for getting your content in front of your ideal audience—where they’re already spending their time.
Also, it’s important to remember that you can have more than one audience.
While you don’t want your ideal audience to be too broad and diverse, especially in the early days of your business (readers might get confused about who your solution is for). However, as long as you understand who your audience is and go through this step you can create great content for them.
It’s time to move from the tactical to the technical part of your content marketing strategy.
If you haven’t set up a blog or found a place to host the content you’re going to create, now is the time.
The good news? You’ve got options.
Luckily, there are tons of great (and easy) options for setting up your own website that go from ready-to-use platforms to fully customizable templates.
But before we start, we need to answer an age-old question for content producers.
Do you want to build your own platform, or use someone else’s?
What I mean is, do you want to build your own blog on a WordPress-powered blog (which I personally do and recommend), through a ready-to-go content management system like Squarespace, or do you want to simply host your content on an external domain like Medium (writing), YouTube (video), or Apple (Podcasts)?
The bad news? There are pros and cons to each of these avenues.
While building your own site gives you the flexibility and freedom to make it exactly how you want, it also means a more upfront and ongoing time investment and potential development costs. You’re also starting with no audience, which can make it tough to get your content noticed.
On the other hand, using a pre-existing platform like Medium, YouTube, and Apple Podcasts for publishing your content means less customization, but easier startup costs (especially when it comes to the time investment if you’ve never used WordPress before).
This route also means instant access to an audience that’s already present, and actively looking for content.
However attractive that sounds though, keep in mind that you’re not in control of what that platform does in the future, which means they could get purchased, hacked, change their policies or even shut down any day they choose.
In the end, the choice is yours.
However, I’m personally biased towards starting from your own blog domain from day one—hence why I always recommend new startups to kick their content off with a WordPress-powered blog. And if you’re not sure what to name your blog, then start with one of these domain name generators.
If you’re looking to make a long-term investment in your content marketing strategy, you should follow the advice of GrowthLab editor Sean Blanda.
( (> Own
<) )> Your platform
— Sean Blanda (@SeanBlanda) April 19, 2017
And as a side benefit, having your own blog will also open you up to inquiries about coaching, consulting, teaching or other work from home jobs once you’ve built a bit of an audience.
If do you choose to build your own site, there are tons of fantastic tutorials on how to do that over on Skillshare, including:
Mastering WordPress: Build the Ultimate Professional Site by developer Malik Motan
Personal Branding Essentials: Making the Most of Squarespace by Squarespace’s George Denison
Blogging Basics by freelance blogger and writer Theresa Christine
Create Your Free Website & Free Domain in under 20 Min w/ Tumblr by developer RJ Ritchie
There’s never a bad time to re-evaluate your content marketing strategy and shift gears if something isn’t working.
If you’ve already been writing or producing other types of content for a little while, now is a great time to bring your published content into the style of your new content marketing strategy.
To do this, you need to know exactly what kind of content ‘types’ you’re going to produce.
Now, we’re not talking just about the format—whether that’s blog posts, videos or podcasts—but rather which topics are you going to produce on a consistent basis?
BrandVox founder Andrea Goulet calls these ‘Content Pillars’—topics that’ll be the foundation of your blog (and content marketing strategy).
For example, if you’re building a finance blog, your core content pillars might be:
- Personal finance tips and tricks
- Interviews and stories about people who found financial freedom
- Industry news and what it means for you
- Finance basics
With these pillars in place, you’ll want to make sure you’re hitting 3 key content types, which Goulet calls the 3 E’s.
- Engagement: Content that’s meant to start a conversation (like it or not, conversational marketing is here to stay, people), like your own opinion on a popular topic.
- Evergreen: Content that is based around key terms for your business and that you can refer back to and update for years to come.
- Events: Content around a particular event or occurrence, like some big piece of news or industry event.
If you have content already published, go through it and see if it fits into your new content marketing strategy.
Does it speak to your audience and work towards your goals? If not, can you update it or change it or should you scrap it altogether?
Whatever content you’re creating, you want to put it in front of the right people.
But before we get into distribution, leveraging social media and all of that, we need to talk about the most important piece of your content distribution puzzle: Email.
Email lets you communicate directly to your subscribers and gets you into their inboxes—where so many of us spend countless hours each week. Starting early with list-building is a great way to amplify the content you’re creating.
In her class Getting Started with Email Marketing, MailChimp product marketing lead Allyson Van Houten runs through some of the basics of how to create meaningful email campaigns, answering some of the biggest email marketing questions that need to be sorted out & aligned with your content marketing strategy.
Which Tools Do You Need?
An email service provider (or, ESP) allows you to send emails, build and maintain your subscriber list, and check reports and analytics on how your campaigns are doing. An ESP will also make sure your emails stay out of spam folders, keep your list healthy and in check, and make sure you’re adhering to all relevant laws around emails.
Here’s a screenshot of the dashboard from within my own ESP ConvertKit, showing stats on how many new email subscribers I’m getting over time, including which forms/offers they sign up for—which helps me keep track of what’s performing best.
There are lots of options, but some of the most popular ones for marketers—and also happen to have lower startup costs are ConvertKit vs AWeber vs Mailchimp.
Here are a few other top email marketing services to consider:
- MailChimp (they have a forever free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers)
- ConvertKit (what I personally use)
- Campaign Monitor
Check out my detailed breakdown of ConvertKit vs AWeber vs Mailchimp for a full analysis about which is the best email marketing tool for bloggers.
Like any “tool” decision, it can always be changed or undone if it’s not working out after a month, and each of these ESPs do a great job of making migration easy.
My advice? Choose the cheapest option that gives you the bare minimum functionality you need in order to achieve your email goals and move on. You can always switch things up and move over to a tool with more options in the future.
And don’t forget—it’s crucial to ensure you maintain a clean email list in order to ensure high deliverability to your subscribers. Using a good quality email verifying tool can help immensely with this process.
What is the Goal of Your Emails?
Your strategy for email marketing needs to relate back to your business goals.
What you’re trying to accomplish for your business over the next couple of weeks or months should really dictate what you’re doing in your email campaigns and newsletters.
As Van Houten explains: “Some of the goals you could be trying to hit with your email strategy could be brand awareness, awareness about your products, loyalty to your company and your brand, as well as driving people to your website to consume your content.”
What Content Should Your Emails Include?
The content you’re creating for your blog is a great place to start with what you could send to your email subscriber list.
Van Houten suggests taking that content and using parts of it to create email campaigns that’ll drive people back to your blog to read the rest of your post, watch the full video or listen to the entire podcast episode.
This is exactly what I do with my own weekly (sometimes twice weekly) email newsletter. Here’s a screenshot from last week.
I push out a preview of the week’s new podcast episode and new blog posts when they’re published, so that my subscribers can dig into the full piece of content (if it’s a match for what they need at the moment).
What Types of Emails Should I Send?
There are 3 main types of emails you can send to your list, in a way that supports your content marketing strategy:
- General campaigns and newsletters: These are sent to your full list. They’re great when you’re just starting out and your list isn’t really huge (as you know that pretty much everyone on the list wants to hear about your company and the content you’re releasing).
- Communication that gets sent to targeted segments on your list: As you grow, you’ll want to make sure you’re sending the right messages to the right groups of people on your list. Your ESP should let you select segments based on demographic information or what links they’ve clicked on in the past, so you can send more targeted campaigns.
- Automated messaging: These are messages you’re going to send out to multiple people over time. Think welcome emails, delivering an e-course, or lists of your top content.
How Often Should I Send Emails?
There are no hard and fast rules about sending once a week or once a month, according to Van Houten.
Rather, how often you send is going to depend on how much time you have to spend on email and how often you have news or valuable new content to share.
As you’re just getting started, she usually recommends small businesses aim for 1 email a month.
You want to be consistent and talking to your subscribers as often as you can without overwhelming them. And you also don’t want to go 4, 5, or 6 months without them hearing from you, because they’re likely to forget how they even got onto your email list and your chances of getting marked as spam increase significantly.
Alright, at this point we know our why we’re creating content and who our audience is.
We have a blog setup and our email service provider is ready to go. Now, it’s finally time to talk about the actual content you’re going to create and how it aligns with your content marketing strategy.
This is where the fun begins.
You probably have a ton of ideas for posts you can write or videos you can film at this point. However, that initial excitement can wear off quickly when other things get in the way.
For your content marketing strategy to be successful, you need to make sure you stay strategic in what you’re creating and avoid falling into the trap of simply reacting.
As Seth Godin explains in The Modern Marketing Workshop:
“Great marketers set their own agenda. This means getting out of reaction mode and focusing on your strategy.”
To set your own agenda, you need to create a content marketing editorial calendar that isn’t reactionary.
Rather, one that’s is filled with repeatable content that is directly tied to your business goals.
Free Download: My Content Marketing Editorial Calendar Template
Your pillar posts or content types we discussed earlier will help tell you the kinds of posts you’re going to write, but what about the actual specific content of each?
Here’s how Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, explains the basics of using keyword research in Introduction to SEO: Tactics and Strategy for Entrepreneurs.
Rand shares, “When you’re thinking about your audience, we want to take a look at the folks we know are in the group we want to target and ask ‘what are they searching for today that they can’t successfully find or aren’t being well exposed to?’”
Once you start thinking about your audience’s needs, Rand offers a 5-step process for coming up with the specific topics and keywords your audience will be looking for. This will be the foundation of your content marketing strategy.
- Brainstorm topics and terms: Start by writing down as many blog post ideas your audience may be interested in. It’s good to involve people who work directly with your users at this point, like a customer service or sales rep.
- Use a keyword research tool to gather results: Now, it’s time to plug those terms into a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner, Moz, Twinword Ideas or any other to see what comes up.
- Expand and refine your list: Take that big list and refine or group them together. What looks good? What doesn’t make sense to your business goals?
- Build a spreadsheet and prioritize terms: Now, it’s time to get organized. Build a spreadsheet with the data you got in your tool, such as keyword, estimated search volume, difficulty and opportunity and assign a priority to each one. Which is most important to your business?
- Outline content that hits the 3 key needs: Take your top terms and craft a blog post outline content that will serve your goals, the user’s needs, and the keyword targeting. This is the trifecta of killer, SEO-friendly content.
Rand’s final piece of advice? Make sure you’re not just aiming to match the content you see ranking #1, but blowing it out of the water:
He elaborates, “What’s the thing where when you read the first few search results you say, ‘This is great, but I wish they…’. If you have great answers to that, don’t ask ‘how do we make something as good as this?’ but say ‘how do we make something 10X better than any of these?” That’s the bar that’s been set because it’s so competitive to try to rank for terms today.”
Blog posts, videos, podcasts, infographics—they all have their place in your content strategy and it’s up to you how you use them. What’s non-negotiable, however, is that they tell a story.
As Seth Godin says: “Marketing is the act of telling a story to people who want to hear it. And making that story so vivid and true that the people who hear it want to tell other people.”
To hit that mark, Godin says there are 4 qualities your content needs to have:
- Emotion: What emotion do we want people to feel?
- Change: How are you changing people with your product or content? Does that emotion change them in a way that helps your brand?
- Alert: Once you’re changed someone, how do you build the privilege of being able to tell them when you have something new?
- Share: How can you get people to tell each other?
With that in mind, let’s look at the specifics of putting together some of the most popular content formats: blog posts, videos, and podcasts.
Blogging in Your Content Marketing Strategy
Blog posts are a great place to start with your content marketing strategy as they have the lowest barrier to entry, by far.
You don’t need a designer or special equipment. Just start writing and you’re ready to go.
Here’s how Single Grain CEO Eric Siu explains how to build a blog post in Content Marketing: Blogging for Growth:
Start with an outline: Start with just a skeleton of what you want to say. This means having a few lines for your intro and why people should care about your topic, as well as outlining the main points or sub-headers you’re going to use throughout the post. Read through this. Does it make sense? Does your outline quickly answer What, Why, How and Where?
Add the meat: These are the details, the statistics, quotes, images, or case studies. If you’re making claims in your post you need to back it up. Use Google to find statistics around your topic. And when you link out to studies or references, these are great people to reach out to later on when you’re distributing your content.
One-up the competition: At this point you’ve got a good post, but not a great one. Take the next step and see what the competition is doing. What’s the #1 result for your topic and how can you make yours better? Can you go more in-depth? Add more images or resources?
Write a great headline: The last, and almost most important part of writing is your headline. You only click on things that catch your eye when you’re scrolling through social media, and your audience is the same. There are great resources on writing headlines on Copyblogger and Quicksprout.
Add an effective featured image: People love images and adding a featured image before the post has been shown to give you 18% more clicks, 89% more favorites, and 150% more retweets on Twitter alone. Check out sites like Unsplash for better-than-stock photos and then use a tool like Canva to add extra elements like text or icons.
Videos in Your Content Marketing Strategy
According to recent research, 51% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI while social video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined.
However, making videos can seem like a monumental task if you're used to watching the highly-produced content from people like Gary Veynerchuk that have entire teams dedicated to producing his content.
You need specialized gear, a studio, lighting, sound, right? Not exactly, in DIY Viral Video: A Mini Class on Making iPhone How-To Videos, Darby Smart founder Nicole Farb explains how to create one of the most popular video styles out there—hyperlapse videos—with just your iphone.
If you’ve watched cooking recipes or DIY How-to videos online, you know the style. Present what you’re going to make, the ingredients, process, and end result, all in 60 seconds or less. Here’s how she does it:
- Keep it short: Under 60 seconds at the most. If you can keep it under 30 seconds you’re killing it!
- Have a plan: Think about your ingredients or props you need or how you’re going to show the steps
- Use hand signals to communicate to your users: The majority of videos are watched without sound, so think of other ways to communicate what the user needs to know.
- Use your tools: Skillshare uses the Hyperlapse tool, Box to store our videos, and a video stand, which you can create with something as simple as two stacks of books with a plank across. Place your camera on the edge of the plank and fire up your camera app. You can set a ‘stage’ for where you’re filming by taping it out on the table.
- Gather your resources: Either bring them in one at a time or have them all laid out in your center stage.
- Start with a compelling image: Either an impressive ‘finished product’ to arouse interest, or some unconventional ingredients.
- Don’t worry about it being perfect: DIY videos go viral every day. If you can tell a compelling story in a short amount of time, it doesn’t matter if you shot it on your iPhone or a professional camera.
Podcasts in Your Content Marketing Strategy
Podcasts are super hot right now as a content form, and for good reason—it can fuel your content marketing strategy with relatively low effort compared to writing 7,000+ word blog posts like this one. 😂
With how busy your audience is, giving them a way to passively listen to your content is fantastic for lowering the barrier of entry.
However, like video, you’re probably thinking you need all sorts of specialized gear and skills. And while yes, audio is a whole other beast, you can get started with just a little bit of effort. In his class Getting Your Podcast Off the Ground!, Neil Patel, host of The Indian Startup Show (the #1 tech podcast in India) runs us through the basics of podcasting.
Step 1: Pick Your Topic or Niche
If you already know your audience and your topic, this should be a no brainer. However, you’ll want to pick a niche to blog about in order to get people interested. There are currently over 100,000 podcast shows out there, so get specific!
For my podcast, I chose the topic of side hustles because that's been a consistent theme on my blog for the past several years, and it's been the cohesive topic that bonds just about everything I write about together—so it made sense to talk about it on my show.
Step 2: Gather Your Tools
A basic podcasting setup consists of a microphone and software for recording your voice. This can range from as simple as your built-in mic (which I don't recommend due to the poor sound quality) to an external USB mic, audio interface, and professional recording software.
It's super affordable, has awesome audio quality for the price, and is small & portable which makes it perfect for taking on-the-go.
Check out Skillshare’s own page with examples of audio setups here.
Step 3: Find your Guests (or Script Out Your Own Episodes)
If you’re doing an interview-style show (like mine), you’ll now want to start getting some guests involved.
You can use your existing social network to reach out to people you already know or are connected with on Twitter or Facebook. You can also head to Medium or Amazon to find authors or experts on topics specific to your niche.
Once you’ve gathered a list, put together a template outreach email (as you’ll be doing this over and over) that’s short and clear with expectations. Tell them who you are, what your podcast is about, and what you’re asking of them.
Step 4: Edit Your Podcast and Add Music, Sound, and Other Elements
Audio editing is a form of art. Luckily, there are tons of affordable options for hiring a sound engineer or podcast producer (like mine) to stitch your episodes together. To start, all you really need is 4 files: your main interview, introduction, outro, and jingle/music.
Next, upload these files to Google Drive or Dropbox. Here's a screenshot of my Drive folder with episodes for my podcast, The Side Hustle Project.
And heres a snapshot inside of an actual episode folder, so you can see all of the different assets I ship to my editor:
Note that when you're just getting started with your podcast, I recommend leaving your episodes (or interviews) very lightly edited without too much storytelling weaved in throughout (that takes a lot of time) unless you have a knack for it—or if podcasting is poised to be your biggest content marketing strategy that you'll be going all in on.
Either way, after you've recorded your conversation, listen back to main interview and note down what needs to be done and when.
Afterwards, you’ll want to send an email to your sound engineer asking them to improve the sound quality and levels of the interview if necessary, and do the follow edits:
- Add intro music (add a link to your file and how long you want it to play for)
- Add new intro (add link to your intro)
- Add main interview (add link to your interview recording)
- With the following edits (tell them where you want cuts or edits)
- Add outro (add link to your outro)
- Convert into MPR
- Save as <whatever you want the file name to be>
Step 5: Upload and Promote
Congrats! You now have a podcast episode that’s ready to be uploaded to iTunes, SoundCloud, or anywhere else and promoted alongside the rest of your content!
Be sure to hit your guests with some copy & paste social copy that they can use to promote their episode, and it helps immensely if you have visually appealing graphics to go along with it.
Now that you’ve got your content together, how are you going to promote or distribute it? You have to be productive with your marketing efforts, because if no one sees, listens, or reads the content you’ve put so much time into creating, was it even worth writing it in the first place?
In 10x Marketing: Content Marketing That Stands Out & Gets Results, CoSchedule CEO Garrett Moon runs through a couple specific tactics and strategies you can try.
Find Your ‘Competition-Free Content’
With so much competition in the content and social media spaces, Moon says it’s important to find your ‘blue ocean’ opportunities—places where you’re not fighting with existing markets and can do your best work.
“How can you create content that’s free from your competition, so that what you’re creating stands out and is actually impactful and meaningful?”
One example he gives is Groove—the help desk software—who decided to shut down their already successful blog to focus on something only they could talk about: their numbers, metrics and own startup story.
They went from producing the ‘me-too’ content that everyone is creating, to something that is unique and have been rewarded with massive increases in traffic and users.
This content marketing strategy focuses on utilizing their core competencies, but here’s how you can find those same kinds of opportunities within your own business:
- Observe your competitors: What are they doing, where are they publishing, and how are they using email? Understand what your customers are already seeing.
- Search relevant topics on Google: Look at the top 10 results and see what’s there. How long is the content. What images are being used? What’s consistent or stands out?
- Ask yourself what are you and your team really good at? What are the patterns that your competition are falling into that you can disrupt? Are there people in your audience that you aren’t serving? What have you created that you’re the most proud of?
From these 3 steps, you should be able to start seeing opportunities where you can excel that aren’t already crammed with competition.
Prioritize 10x Opportunities
Another tactic that's crucial to any content marketing strategy is to always prioritize the highest impact content. Moon calls this the 10X vs 10% test. Which opportunities could potentially provide 10 times the growth to your audience size, traffic, or subscribers, versus just 10%?
To do this, there’s another simple 3-step process:
- Dump all your ideas onto a board. There’s no bad ideas here, just let it all out.
- Bring in the rest of your team to help. Identify all of the real 10X opportunities and put them in one column.
- Rank the difficulty of your 10X opportunities on a scale of 1–3. If you have a 10X opportunity with only a level 1 difficulty, you should jump on that right away and prioritize it within your content marketing strategy.
At this point, you know what you should be focusing the most on. But remember, your 10% ideas aren’t bad so don't throw them out. There could be a time in the future when they do become a higher return activity.
They just don’t have the same potential impact today—and thus should be a lower priority in your overall content marketing strategy right now. Regularly revisit your idea board to re-evaluate priorities and stay on your toes.
It’s pretty much impossible these days to separate your content marketing strategy from your social media strategy.
As motivational quote master Gary Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia says in Context is Key: Social Media Strategy in a Noisy Online World:
“I love social media because it sells shit.”
Social media has become an integral part of getting your content in front of the right people. But you need to do more than just post to Facebook and Twitter once or twice. Gary’s strategy is called jab, jab, jab, right hook. Which breaks down to give, give, give, ask.
“My social media strategy is to give as much value as possible that you basically guilt people into buying what you’re selling. So when you finally ask them to buy what you’re selling, they do.”
What this comes down to is not simply talking about your content and asking people to click a link or subscribe to your newsletter. Instead, you need to show that you’re a trustworthy source of educational resources and earn their attention for when you do ask for something in return.
At the core of your content marketing strategy needs to be the belief that it's a long-term (lifetime) investment in building your worth.
Moving from the big picture of social media to the actual aspect of building posts, Brian Peters, a digital marketing strategist at Buffer, and fellow content marketer with me in my new project, Pro Content Marketer, explains his process in Introduction to Social Media Strategy.
Find your voice: What are the words and graphics and visuals that you’re going to post? Are you going to be quirky like MailChimp or more buttoned up like IBM or Cisco?
Choose what platforms you’re going to use: When you’re just starting out you simply can’t and shouldn’t be on every platform. Pick what makes the most sense for your brand and where your audience is more likely to hang out. Does that mean Facebook or Snapchat?
Generate platform-specific content: You can both create original content from your blog posts or other content, or curate other people’s content like relevant links or videos. Both have their place and should be a part of your strategy. Every platform has its own nuances and subtleties to how they get used and people share. If you want to learn Gary’s secrets check out the rest of his class here.
Set up your social media ‘stack’: Which blogging tools are you going to use to support your social media strategy? Peters suggests Trello for planning posts in advance and making sure you have all the content you need. Canva and Pablo for making graphics. And Buffer or Hootsuite for scheduling posts to go out at the right times.
And as your outreach efforts begin to pay off, you can eventually scale the number of emails you're sending (and relationships you're building) by using outreach automation.
These days, a lot of social media platforms are moving to a ‘pay to play’ model. Meaning, even if you have a huge following and great engagement, you’ve got to pony up some ad dollars to get your content seen by everyone.
When you’re just starting out and building a new content strategy it’s probably a little scary to invest in paid ads. More than $72 billion was spent on social ads in 2016 alone, with that number expected to rise to $113 billion by 2020.
But, as Peters describes in another course—Introduction to Social Media Advertising—you don’t have to throw huge chunks of cash at social media to get a return. Instead, $5 is all you need to start experimenting, especially with channels like Facebook Ads...
(Gif courtesy of Buffer's Ultimate Guide to Getting Started with Facebook Ads)
Here’s how Peters breaks down setting up social ads across Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram:
Step 1: Define Your Goals
Paid ads all come down to working people from the top of your marketing funnel, where they haven’t heard of your brand, through to the middle and finally the bottom where you ask for the sale and they hopefully become a customers.
So, start by asking yourself, who is my audience and what is my goal with them?
Is it to run an awareness campaign for your top of funnel audience and build your brand awareness?
Or, are you going after people who already know who you are and asking them to click through to a blog post or to a landing page?
Once you define your high-level goal, you need to be specific about how you’ll measure its success, whether that’s impressions, engagement, or clicks. To do this, there are 2 things you need to do:
- Set up Google analytics and UTM parameters on your links: These are simple tools that let you track where your traffic came from and what it did once it got to your site.
Step 2: Targeting
Next, you need to decide who is going to see your ad. As Peters explains, targeting is the whole reason social media marketing works as well as it does:
“Targeting capabilities are at an unprecedented level. Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest give you an incredible wealth of information about your customers, which let you create highly targeted ads that are tailored to our audience.”
There are 3 ways you can target your audience:
- Develop personas of your intended audience: Ask why would someone want to click your ad? Who are they? What problem are you solving for them?
- Retarget people who’ve seen you: You can also target people who visited your site or watched a video for a certain amount of time or went to another site. Custom audiences let you target people who already know who you are, which means that you can target top of funnel users with ads and then create custom audiences based on what those users do, pushing them further down your marketing funnel.
- Competitor or lookalike targeting: These are groups of people who the social network believes like similar things to your current users (and therefore might like you), or who like a competitor’s page.
Step 3: Budgeting
As we said before, you don’t need a big budget to be successful with social media advertising. In fact, you can start with as little as $5 a day.
When you’re starting with a small budget, you want to focus on your top of funnel audience, as they’re cheaper to get in front of. You’re not asking for a sale or a click, you’re simply getting them to see your brand and engage with you.
Once you move on from that stage, you’ll start to look at things like cost-per-click (CPC), meaning how much are you willing to spend for someone to click on your ad. Or, Cost-per-thousand (CPM) views. While budgeting for big social media campaigns can get complicated, it all comes down to a simple question:
“Ask yourself, am I willing to spend this money on this specific goal? It all comes down to what you’re willing to spend your money on and what are your goals going into social media advertising so that $100 or $1000 isn’t going to waste.”
It doesn’t matter what the budget is as long as what you’re actually paying for is paying off in the long run.
Step 4: Copy & Visuals
Finally, it’s time to put your actual ad together.
For this, Peters says there are just 4 elements you need to include:
- What do you want your ad to say? As in, what emotion do you want your audience to feel when they see your ad? Do you want to shock them, delight them, intrigue them?
- How do you want your ad to look? Is it video? A stock image? Just text? What colors are you going to use? Is it on brand?
- What action do you want your audience to take? Where should they go after seeing your ad? To a landing page or blog post?
- Where do you want your ad to be placed? Is this an ad for mobile users or desktop users? Is it in their news feed or somewhere else?
If you want to dig deeper, there are some great courses on this, such as Facebook Ads & Facebook Marketing Mastery Guide 2017 or How to Create a Killer Instagram Ad in a Few Minutes.
Final Thoughts on Creating a Content Marketing Strategy:
By now, you should know pretty much everything you need to plan and execute a killer content marketing strategy this year.
If you have any questions about getting your content marketing strategy off the ground, drop them in the comments below and I'll answer every single question you have 😊
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Remember, your content marketing strategy will only be effective—if you have a plan.
Then, it's all about execution (and getting that freelance contract signed before you start working for a client).
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