This series of suggestions comes from a WordPress workshop I attended a few years ago in Brighton, that buzzy digital city. If you want an effective website then success lies less in your technological choices than in the quality of your thinking and forward planning. Was it ever any different, whatever your context?
Q. What is a Content Strategy? Christopher Butler, COO Newfangled
A. Put simply, content strategy involves identifying the type of content that will best enable you to communicate your positioning and achieve your online goals, then planning for the creation of that content by allocating time and resources to the effort.
Many firms position themselves generally and let their portfolios do all the talking. This undermines marketing by being too unclear about what a firm does best
A good content strategy is directed by a firm’s positioning. This means that in order to establish and execute a worthwhile content strategy for your website, you’ll need to focus in on what you do best.
Ultimately, specialization is a good thing for marketing. A tight positioning makes content creation strategy easier to implement and a more effective form of marketing.
Find a unified voice and identify and commit to a particular goal for the blog, the blog’s primary purpose being to “let visitors know how we thought.” They now guard this position with a conservative and measured approach to their writing, and a committed schedule that requires at least 1 post every 2-3 days, a weekly post from their analytics team, and a poll every Friday.
It takes dedication and diligence to get it started, but it requires accountability to keep it going. Narrow your positioning to XX only and become experts in XX marketing, able to clearly outline what decisions needed to be made internally to support the content strategy that best fit the positioning; dedicated full time to content creation, which is divided among doing research, blogging, and working on the XX Thoughts articles.
Your Brand Lives in the Content: Arnie Kuenn, CEO Vertical Measures
Contemporary websites offer more than just information about your company, contact information, and your product offerings. They now provide resources for solving customer problems, can be hubs for social activity, and, most importantly, are rich with fresh and engaging content that is regularly updated so that visitors will frequently return. Content strategy, then, begins with the question: What’s the point of your website? (what you want to accomplish).
Web content provides the customer with clean, logical access to products and services and should funnel them to the site’s conversion pages.
Web content provides information that answers some of the toughest problems customers face.
Web content positions the organization as the trusted expert in its industry.
Notice that the purpose of your web content centers on the customer’s experience. Just like keyword research attempts to identify what your customers are searching for in your industry, your website can provide the answer to those searches. A smart content strategy begins with understanding what the customer needs rather than what you want to offer them.
By implementing measurable goals, you will be able to assess the success of your various projects and discover what’s working for you and what’s not. consider the measurable objectives that will drive your content development. Your content will be working for you when it:
- Develops and increases your brand awareness
- Generates traffic to your site and garners new customer leads or sales
- Enhances your online reputation
- Encourages natural links and optimizes your search engine rankings
- Increases your competitive advantage
When you produce any single piece of content, it should accomplish one or more of these goals, and the sum total of all your content should accomplish all of them. Before you create new content, hold it up against your objectives and ask:
- Will this content position my company as a thought leader?
- Does it help solve my market’s challenges?
- Will it generate qualified traffic to my site?
- Is this content better or different than what my competitors are offering?
Your branding lives in the content. BusinessDictionary.com defines mindshare as the “Informal measure of the amount of talk, mention, or reference an idea, firm, or product generates in public or media.” For your content marketing strategy, you need to get people talking, mentioning or referencing, linking to and especially sharing your branded content. As your brand consistently provides valuable information to your customers and potential customers, you will increase your mindshare. Increasing mindshare is all about distribution and promotion of your web pages. By consistently generating shareable content and ensuring that you distribute it through multiple channels and promote it throughout your network, your voice and your brand will make up an ever-increasing part of the conversation about your industry.
The ultimate goal for increasing traffic is to increase conversion and generate sales for your business. Your content should always work to funnel the traffic that you’re getting to your conversion pages.
Ultimately, your content will only add value to your business when it’s relevant, timely, and engaging. Content that fails in this regard won’t have a chance at going viral in social media channels, and rather than gaining valuable traffic will instead lead to high bounce rates. On the other hand, when you generate engaging content, you will find bounce rates drop and conversion rates go up; you’ll see your content take off in social media.
You can objectively measure traffic increases and conversion rates. That makes this objective a great one for your strategy, not only as you develop your content but also as you measure its success. When you see positive results, you can rest assured that your other goals for your content — the ones that are harder to measure — are reaping the benefits, too. That is, if you see increased traffic to your site and an increased rate of conversion when that traffic lands there, then your brand is strengthened, your mindshare has increased.
Through social media, businesses can communicate to their customers and manage the communication that flows to the customer. Social media sites typically allow you to create your own profile page. Profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are great examples of starting points for developing a social media platform.
Content Audit: Mary Shaw, UX Designer (maryshaw.net)
Content strategy covers managing and tracking anything that can appear or be measured on your website:
- Links (working, please!)
- File Downloads (.PDF, .doc, .xls, etc.)
- Error Messages
- Site stats
Content audit: There are two flavours of content audit; quantitative and qualitative. First you need to know what you have (quantitative). Then you need to know what to do with it (qualitative). A thorough content audit will give you the information you need to figure out what to keep, what to delete, and what needs to be created from scratch.
Strategy not Implementation: David Baker, Head of Digital Content, NSPCC
Thinking about how the mix of things you do for clients can have a significant impact on the value they place on your services. More than the services you do for them, how you position those services will have a significant impact on the nature of the relationship. What does is it look like to an outsider who is trying to absorb every little clue about your positioning?
Interrogate your website:
First, does your web site highlight implementation? What do the images capture—the thinking process or the implementation outcome? Does your presentation feature any strategic work you do for clients that might be presented to them in nothing more than text?
Second, look at your billing structure. If you have a tiered hourly rate structure (which you should not), at what level is most of your client activity billing? Is the weighted average toward the lower end of the hourly rate options?
Third, look at the titles of all the people your clients interact with, and see how many of them are upstream or more on the implementation side.
Fourth, if a new client has limited time and/or money, what part of the process do you reluctantly compress at their insistence? I’ll bet it’s the analysis and strategy in order to dive into the implementation quicker because they are coming to you more for short-term solutions.
Fifth, get a cheap digital voice recorder and record just your side of the conversation by setting it on your desk during the phone call. Then listen to it and analyze the type of questions you are asking your clients. Are you guiding them or are you reactively getting the information you’ll need in order to fulfill their implementation requests?
Sixth, look at where your clients have stepped out of the relationship they already have with you to buy related services. When they do so, are they typically buying upstream or downstream from your firm’s role?
Seventh, who have they assigned on the client side to manage the relationship with you? How high up the ladder are they, and do you think you should be working at a higher level within the client organization?
First, craft your positioning entirely on your strategy and not on your execution. Don’t mention the latter, don’t feature it on your web site, and don’t give it any prominence in your presentations. Quit hiding behind the things your hands do and learn to stand naked in front of a crowd of prospects, without props obscuring your ability to think and ask the right questions. The fact that you do implementation is simply a convenience to your clients, not your prospects.
Second, craft every first-time engagement to assess the client’s situation and determine (typically in great detail) what they need. At that point, they can hire you to do it, hire you to manage another outside entity to do it, or do it themselves. It’s about leading with strategy first and then offering execution next, but unbundled from the former. Prospects smell desperation, and they are also suspicious of upstream services (strategy) that appear to be nothing more than a loss-leader to actually sell downstream services (implementation). But if you unbundle these two, and if you really don’t care if the client uses you to do the work that you recommend, the client is actually more likely to hire you for the whole package. They just don’t like pressure.
Third, drop the irrational fear that to keep a client you have to meet all their needs. Only insecure, paranoid boyfriends never let the girl they brought along dance with someone else at the party. The honest and ethical thing to do is to pair your client with someone whose strength is a match for what the client needs. The more you force yourself into meeting all a client’s needs, the less credibility you have, and the sooner they’ll leave you.
Fourth, use what I call the R21E approach: “two rooms, but only one entrance.” Most firms are allowing new clients to enter either room from the outside, buying either a defined strategy plan first (their preference) or moving straight to execution (the entrance that tends to get the most use). Instead, close off the outside entrance to the larger implementation room, forcing all new clients to enter by the strategy room. From there, they can choose to make their own arrangements or use the connecting door to the implementation room. But that bigger room is largely hidden to the public and is only there for the convenience of clients without any pressure to use it.
Fifth, let the dividing wall between these two rooms move over time, so that the strategy room gets larger, taking over space from the implementation room. Eventually you may end up with only enough implementers to illustrate/model your strategic recommendations without fully executing them.
Finally, there you have it. Do strategy, obviously, and even do implementation. Just be careful how you do them together.
Content Marketing: Kristina Halvorson, CEO Brain Traffic (book: contentstrategy.com)
Design is there to present the content.
Content strategy is about asking, at the heart of it, smart questions about the content very early in the process and being persistent about it.
Who is going to be providing the content? How long does it typically take to get the content? Who owns the content on your website right now? Do you have any plans to take care of that content after you launch the website? What does that look like?
The entire point is to just think about content as an entirety that involves both product and people.
What are your business objectives? Those need to be informing your web strategy. And the content you choose, the decisions you make about your content, that core content strategy really needs to be supported by your business strategy. I think that having a desire to attract traffic, that’s not enough, and that is going to result in content for the sake of content.
Actually delivering quality content to become a real resource, a real expert, which is what the content marketing movement is all about, requires an enormous amount of time.
Web Strategy: Lisa Welchman
A Web strategy should address not just how an organization will address the wants and needs of its customer or user base, but also how the organization will make that user experience happen operationally.
The web is now “the organization’s primary communications, sales, marketing, and transactional vehicle.”
Web Governance: Jonathan Kahn, founder of Together London
You know the project is unlikely to achieve its objectives because of problems with strategy, governance, execution, or measurement:
- No realistic web strategy
- No standards and policies, ownership, decision-making processes
- No appropriate metrics (KPIs)
Content strategy is the ultimate discussion starter. Whatever project or initiative you’re working on, at some point you can bring out the innocent-sounding questions of content strategy:
- Why are we doing this?
- How does this fit into the overarching web strategy?
- How does this meet our users’ needs?
- What’s the decision making process?
- Who will write, edit, and publish it, and look after it over time?
“Web governance” as an umbrella term to cover the four components of web strategy, web governance, web execution, and web measurement.
- Web strategy should be created by senior management to establish guiding principles for the web: high-level objectives and metrics based on the organization’s business strategy. It also formalizes authority and funding for the web within the organization.
- Web governance defines decision-making processes for the web, and sets policies and standards for web content, design, and technology—in a way that respects subject-matter expertise. (For example, your CEO shouldn’t be setting standards for markup or tone of voice.)
- Web execution ensures that the organization has an appropriately staffed and resourced web team that can realistically execute the web strategy. (This is where most A List Apart readers work at the moment.)
- Web measurement measures web performance against the high-level objectives and metrics set by the web strategy. While web analytics help to achieve this, we should be careful not to confuse the numbers we read in analytics tools for web measurement—we need to relate those numbers to business objectives to truly measure success.
- Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, is business jargon for the numbers managers use to measure the success of their organization. The point of a web strategy is to relate the success of the organization’s web properties to its overall performance—in other words, to engage senior management with their online successes or failures. To do that we need to talk about the KPIs they care about. Unsuck It defines KPI as, “Measurement (of success).”
Some questions for your team:
- What are our business goals? Do we have a written web strategy? (We need one.)
- How does the organization make money (or equivalent for non-profits), and how are web operations linked to that? How is that measured?
- How much do our web operations cost, and how much money do they make? (In most cases nobody can answer this question, which is a problem.)
- Has anyone documented the decision-making process for the web? Do we have any standards and policies?
- How are our web teams staffed and resourced? Do we use external agencies, or is everything in-house?
- How are we measuring success on the web? Are web metrics linked to the organization’s KPIs?
- Has anyone documented the legal, financial, and reputation-related risks we’re taking on the web?
The Value of Content: Melissa Rach, dialog studios – The Value of Content (wrote book with Kristina Halverson above)
- Don’t worry about exact numbers
- Start by defining what you are measuring
- How are you defining content
- What does the content help the user do
- What are the desired characteristics of the content
- Assign values to functions and characteristics
- The more ways you measure the more certainty you get
- Establish a baseline
- Measure regularly
See also the A/B Test – Lara Swanson, Dynamic Network (USA)
The Editorial Calendar: Sally Bagshaw, Snappy Sentences (Oz) – A Content Calendar
Get your content under control with an editorial calendar.
An editorial calendar is (quite literally) a calendar that maps out the year ahead in terms of what and when you need to produce content. Using one ensures you have enough time to develop and publish (and retire) content to make the most of key dates that are appropriate for your business and audience.
It doesn’t matter what type of industry you’re in – you’ll still find an editorial calendar very useful:
Retail – Map out your shopping periods like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Mother’s Day and plan what content you need to support it.
Education – Plan the lead up to back to school or university terms, key enrolment dates, and exams periods.
Sport – Identify the big sporting events that are happening in your area. Or is there an international event (like the Olympics) that you can use as a base to create content?
Government – Plan ahead for elections, budget announcements, and annual reports. Make sure you allow enough time to retire old content too – each new strategic plan that’s announced is usually replacing one that’s no longer valid. Make sure that visitors to your site find the new one when they search for ‘strategic plan’.
Type of content to include on an editorial calendar:
It’s really up to you what you include in your calendar. Try thinking about:
- Web content
- Social media
- SEO calendar (Valentines, Easter, Halloween etc search spikes)