Home » Blog » What is a content strategy and why do you need one?

What is a content strategy and why do you need one?

Strategy is the difference between content that costs you money and content that makes you money. Find out how a content strategy can boost your conversions and earn you more business.

Table of Contents

Content Strategy is king

Ever heard the phrase “content is king”? There’s a certain truth to it. After all, content is what makes the Internet go around. If you don’t believe me, imagine your favourite website or social media channel without any content. No words or imagery or videos.

A screenshot of the Amazon UK website with no content on any kind.
Amazon doesn’t look great without any content, does it?

Not very compelling, is it?

But there’s something greater than content: strategy.

The concept of a content strategy sounds deceptively simple: it’s content with a plan. But establishing a plan, figuring out what content you need and how it will work together to achieve it, and executing it? That’s a far more complicated affair.

Content without strategy isn’t enough anymore

In the glorious early days of the Internet, content was produced like this.

“Hey, I’ve got a good idea for a blog!”

“Write it.”

“Hey, I’ve had another good idea!”

“Write that too. Content is king.”

Content was being produced at breakneck speed. Some of it was great. Some of it less so. Some of it was relevant to the brand. Some of it wasn’t. It was the content equivalent of shooting mud at the wall and seeing what sticks.

A man stands next to a cannon, which has fired lumps of mud in a random pattern at a wall; a metaphor for early approaches to creating online content!
The content marketing mud gun in action.

This isn’t an acceptable way to produce content anymore.

Now some people still produce content like this and use the resulting data to learn about their audience. This is a valid approach to content production, but the important thing to remember is that the content production isn’t the end of the process. Once the data is collected, the content is pruned, edited, and the subsequent content is informed by the data.)

Don’t worry if this was how you were producing content; you’re not the only one! You’ve probably got a bunch of diamonds in that rough smorgasbord of muddy content. You just need to make those diamonds shine. Find out how to make those diamonds shine with my guide about content audits and clusters.

How to start your content strategy: set a goal

And don’t say something like “make more money”. That isn’t a goal. That’s just a business necessity.

Nor is “publish a blog post a week” a content strategy goal. That’s a tactic. You’ll need tactics to achieve your goal, but they’re not goals in and of themselves.

A good content strategy goal is two things: it’s something that will deliver value to your organisation; and it’s something that can be measured.

For example, “increase online revenue by 10% over last year” or “double the leads generated by the website” are solid goals. So is “increase organic traffic to the website by 50%”. You goal might even be “get 1,000 new YouTube subscribers”. Whatever measurable success looks like to you, that is your goal.

“But James,” you may say, “why do we have to be slaves to the numbers?”

Because if your goal doesn’t contain a measure of success, you won’t be able to, well, measure your success. And then all you’re doing is creating content and crossing your fingers, and we’re back to the mud gun.

Once you’ve established your goal, you can start figuring out how you’ll get there.

Conduct a content audit

You can’t figure out what content you’ll need for your strategy until you know what you’ve already got. After all, you might have 90% of the content required already; all it needs is updating and organising!

A content audit helps you to assess the content you already have and establish which pieces of new content you’ll need. Once your audit is complete, you’ll have the information you need to build content journeys that will turn prospects into customers.

What is a content journey?

A content journey is a series of pieces of content that lead a reader from one place to another. This is often from prospect to conversion, but it can also be from previous customer to email subscriber, or lapsed customer to new purchase.

Any time you use content to move a person from one state to another, you’ve taken them on a content journey.

Here’s an example: you send out brochures to potential customers about your new line of luxury window blinds. Your Call to Action (CTA) might be to call your sales team, but not every reader will be ready for that step yet.

So you also print on the brochure your web address. But not just the address of your homepage. Instead you print a specific (or even vanity) URL that takes them to a specific piece of content designed to persuade them how great your product is and overcome their objections.

This piece might end with a link to a case study that proves the point you’ve been making. And that case study invites the reader to fill in a contact form to receive a call from your sales team.

You just took your potential customer in a content journey.

A man stands next to a wall covered in coloured splats. The splats direct to central splats which then direct towards a gold star, a metaphor for how strategical content journeys can lead prospects towards conversion.
From mud gun to content journeys, leading your customers towards conversion!

One thing to note is that there were two potential journeys on offer here. That’s because people will not always follow your CTA. They might go away and take a look at your social media channels or read some reviews written by your customers.

That’s why it’s important that all of your content is working together. They should all be working towards that same goal, trying to guide your potential customers back into the content journey you want them to take towards that same goal: conversion.

How to build content journeys

Your first step needs to be to draw a map. Where do you want your customers to end up? Where are your customers now? And what kind of content can move them from where they are to where you want them to be?

The next step is to start at the end and work backwards. It might seem counter-intuitive, but you need to start with the end. There are multiple reasons for doing it this way:

  • No broken journeys; if you start at the beginning, users will have nowhere to go after they complete steps 1-3, because you haven’t created steps 4-6
  • You can start journeys sooner; some users will already be taking their own, self-created journeys; you can complete that journey for them with steps 4-6 while you work on steps 1-3
  • You’ll always have the goal in mind; starting with step 1 means you might think of extra steps or possible next actions based on what you’re creating. That’s not necessarily bad, but it often amounts to accidentally meandering away from your tight journey and your ultimate goal. By starting with the end, you have a destination to work towards.

So rather than start where your customers are right now, get to work on the end of their content journey: the conversion destination.

What is a conversion destination?

A conversion destination is wherever a user will take an action that leads them to becoming a customer.

In the context of your content strategy, a conversion destination is the end of a particular content journey. It’s where the user will take the final action you want them to take.

This could be anything from making an online purchase to completing an enquiry form. Depending on your business model, it might even be a piece of content or a social media channel.

Your conversion destination should be free of distractions. No links to other content, no invitations to leave the page. The content should pull the reader down towards the CTA, and the CTA should be the only action that the page invites them to take.

Build up the rest of the funnel

Once your conversion destination is ready, you can start working your way back up the journey and back up the funnel.

You’ll plan the consideration content next. The consideration phase of the funnel is the “and who the hell are you?” section. It’s the content for people who are ready to make a purchase but need to know why they should choose you over the completion. Case studies are a perfect example of consideration content.

This is preceded by the awareness phase, or “so what’s it all about?” This content is for people who are aware of the product or service you provide but need to know more about it. Detailed “benefits of” pieces are key to this phase.

The beginning of your journey, and funnel, begins with the exposure phase, AKA “never heard of it”. This is the eye-catching content for people who have never heard of both you or what you do. “What is” content sits here, but also broader, tangential content.

For example, an article about celebrity gardens written by a shed company might capture people interested in gardens, who are more likely to be interested in sheds.

You can see now how your content journey works. Each stage is answering a person’s objections to your product or service. Never heard of it. What’s it all about then? And who the hell are you?

All ending with your conversion destination. AKA alright then.

And then rinse and repeat for each type of customer you want to target.

Don’t forget your existing content

Unless your organisation or product is new, you probably already have some content that you’ve already created. Some of it may fit perfectly into your content journeys.

That’s why it’s so important to do a full content audit before you start writing the content for these journeys. The perfect piece may already exist, or need just a tweak to become perfect.

These journeys can take a lot of planning and work. You’ll be able to launch your journeys faster if you have existing content that can either be used or repurposed to work within your new journeys.

Being able to re-use or repurpose existing content will also make it easier to get sign-off on your strategy from management! Speaking of which.

Get everyone on the same page

Now that you have your content journey ready, it’s time to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Because it’s not just a case of getting your content up there. Your social media team need to understand the strategy so they can share the right content with the right messaging to the right people at the right time. Your Local SEO specialist might need to monitor review sites with the same goal in mind. Your print media team need to know which URL to print on your brochures.

Having a content strategist on your team means there’s someone who can help draw the disparate channels together and make sure everyone is creating the content needed to execute the strategy.

Oh, and they can help to fully brief management so that they understand and support the strategy and are willing to sign off on the budget!

Wait

This is the hard part. You need to give your strategy time to work and for the data to accumulate. So while you need to keep an eye on it for warning signs that something is broken, don’t bother analysing it until there is enough information to be meaningful.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t monitor how your content is performing. You need to keep an eye out for red flags (no click-through to the next phase, for instance, or the scroll depth on a piece is 0% for all visitors) so that you can fix anything that’s broken.

But don’t second-guess yourself right now. Use this time to work on something else. If you feel the urge to meddle, be patient; you will be meddling at some point, but only when you have enough data to tell you what to meddle with and why.

Measure your success

Once you have some meaningful data, it’s time to analyse it and see if your strategy is working.

There’s a lot of data available these days, so it’s important to fix your goals and your metrics in your mind. If your goal is to drive email sign-ups, don’t get sidetracked by time on page or operating system. All that matters to begin with is this: are more users visiting your conversion destination and signing up?

They are? Congratulations!

They aren’t? Commiserations.

Either way, now’s the time to track back through the data to find either a way to improve upon your success, or to find out what went wrong.

This is a huge topic in itself. Perhaps users are dropping off after step 3, in which case you might need a more compelling Call to Action. Perhaps they’re hitting the conversion destination, but they’re not clicking the button, in which case you perhaps need to rework your page design or copy.

While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the metrics that could indicate a problem with one of your content journeys:

  • Bounce rate
  • Pages per session
  • Scroll depth

Evolution not innovation

If you measure your success and find it wanting, don’t be tempted to shred your strategy to pieces and start again. Doing that won’t help you learn what’s working and what isn’t.

It’s far better to take smaller steps to improve on the success you’re already enjoying. If you try putting a different piece of content into a journey and you see an uptick in conversions, you’ve learnt that kind of content at that stage is what your customers are looking for.

Whereas if you binned the whole journey, you didn’t learn much at all.

Over time, you can make tweaks and adjustments to each of your journeys that make them better and better. You’ll never achieve perfection, because both your business and your customers will change. But you can enjoy greater success with the knowledge you’ve built up. That will help you to create better content that reaches more people.

Which, whatever your business goal, is always the purpose of good content.

If you want to find out more about content strategy and how it can help your business, get in touch today.