“Have a plan, or plan to fail.” Ever heard that saying? It’s a tidy assessment of why strategy matters. Strategy is especially important for Internet marketers, because we can so easily and so quickly get caught up in the latest shiny new marketing trick, or bogged down in long list of cool tools.
There’s nothing wrong with cool tools, of course. I love cool tools. Everybody loves them. But with just tools and no strategy, we’re about as effective as a monkey with a hammer – there’s lots of noise and activity, but nothing much useful gets built.
That’s why strategy matters. And just so we start off with a clear understanding, let’s try to define the difference between strategies and tactics:
- Strategies are the blueprints; tactics are the tools.
- Strategies are like battle plans; tactics are the weapons you choose to execute those plans.
In football terms, a strategy would be to weaken the defense. The tactics would be a series of specific plays that interfere with how well the defensive players can do their jobs.
In content marketing, an overarching strategy would be to educate potential consumers about why your services are best. Tactics would be blog posts, webinars and an email newsletter. Each one of those tactics supports that education strategy. Notice that each one of those tactics also has a goal, and is designed from the start to accomplish that goal.
You can see why a strategy is so critical to marketing. Without a strategy, you’re just trying out tactic after tactic without any coordinated plan. Now, all that said, you may over time develop a working idea of what you’re aiming for, and that’s actually a rough version of a strategy. It’s just an undocumented strategy. Surprisingly, about half of all content marketers have an undocumented content marketing strategy, according to the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs’ 2015 B2B and B2C Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends Reports.
While you can get away with an undocumented strategy, it’s easier and more effective to write out a strategy from the start, instead of hashing one together, bit by bit, as you go along. So let’s give you the fundamentals of how to develop an effective content marketing strategy for your business, based on your goals and the resources you have on hand now.
1) Define your business goals
To paraphrase the Spice Girls: “What do you want? What do you really, really want?”
Get specific about it. Maybe you want to double your income. Maybe you want to double your email list. Maybe you want to be on the cover of Forbes. Whatever it is, it’s got to be specific and measurable. Where do you want your business to be in three months? I recommend the relatively short three-month time frame, because it’s harder to put something off that’s only three months away. Something that’s a year away can make you feel like you’ve got enough time to waffle.
So whether it’s doubling your revenue, or doubling your profits, or getting more email subscribers, define it. All your content marketing efforts are going to be focused on this goal.
Now – a word to you overachievers who would like to have ten different business goals. You’ve got to limit your business goals to three items or less. Every additional goal means you’re taking focus off the other goals, and it is all too easy to fracture your focus down to nothing. So be ruthless. What one thing would completely change the game for your business?
2) Define your existing audience and your ideal audience
Now that you’ve defined what you’re going to do, define who you’re doing it for. I.e.: Who’s your ideal customer, client, or reader?
Once again, you’ll need to get specific. If you’re an affiliate, is your ideal reader a rank beginner, or are they more advanced? Are they budget-conscious, or more focused on having the best of everything? Are they technical, and love every diagram and diagnostic you can give them? Or do they want you to simplify what they should do down to a level where an eight year old could understand it?
Also ask yourself where your ideal customer or client tends to go online, and offline. Are there certain blogs they read? Certain online tools they use? You’ll also want to cover basic profile information like demographics, but don’t forget the psychographics, either: What does your ideal reader worry about? What do they aspire to? These are all critical pieces of information to craft your content around.
If you’re a B2B solopreneur or a small business, try to define what your ideal client looks like. Are they a business of 2-3 people, or 20-30 people? Do they tend to be a certain kind of business, like a professional service business (a law firm or an accountancy firm), or a retail establishment (clothing stores, building supplies)?
Another great way to define who your ideal client, customer or reader is can be to use the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Adapt it for this exercise: Which 20% or your clients, customers or site visitors are creating 80% of your earnings? You want to find more people like them.
3) Determine what’s worked best in the past
Basically, this means doing a content audit. Now – don’t panic. Content audits are not like tax audits. They’re not a punishment, they don’t have to take forever, and they don’t have to be really boring.
There is actually a really cool tool (see… even strategy development involves tools) that gives you a decent content audit with no more work than a click of a button. It’s the Kapost content auditor tool.
Just enter your website URL here, and click the “Begin Free Audit” audit.
In a few minutes, you’ll get your results:
Using this tool will help, but it won’t give you the kind of detailed audit you’ll really need.
What you want to do is
- Get a list of all the pages on your site, including their URL and other metrics, like bounce rates, time on page, unique visitors and other stats. You can do this with a tool called Screaming Frog.
- This is what the results look like after Screaming Frog has finished analyzing a site:
If your site is small (like less than 100 pages) you can probably use the free version of Screaming Frog and get all your pages analyzed. If your site is larger, you might need either the paid version (approximately $125). You can also use a combination of Google Analytics, Google Webmaster tools, the bulk upload feature of SharedCount and BuzzStream’s tool to extract page titles and meta data. That will give you most of what Screaming Frog will show you, but with no charge for larger sites.
- Next, you sort through all this information you’ve collected. This is the intimidating part of a content audit, so if you get stuck, just focus on your most-visited pages, and then focus on how those pages can be optimized to meet your business goals.
- Review if there are any “holes” in your content – i.e., if there are any topics you should cover but haven’t. Also look at your content through the eyes of your customer or client, as they go through their journey from finding you, to trusting you, to buying from you. Ask yourself: Do they need any additional resources to make that journey easier? Do different kinds of customers need different kinds of content? Is that content easy for them to find? Is it updated and optimized?
- After you’ve analyzed your content, run simple content analysis of 2-3 of your top competitors. Look for most shared content, where they rank in the search engine results, and which content marketing tactics they’re using .
There are a couple of nice website analysis tools that are great for seeing how you measure up against your competition. QuickSprout is very good. So are WooRank, Nibbler and Uberflip. Buffer published a great post reviewing these tools recently.
The most important thing about doing a content audit is to get enough information so you can see what needs to be improved, but not get so much information that you fall into “analysis paralysis”. Once again, the 80/20 rule can help: Figure out which pages account for 80% of your traffic. Optimize those first.
- At the end of your analysis, you want to know:
- Which pieces of content have performed best for you
- Are those pieces blog posts, guest posts? Slideshares?
- Which topics seem to get the most attention
- Which days or hours perform best
- Which content marketing efforts have gotten the most results, and which ones tanked
4) Determine what content marketing tactics might work that you haven’t tried yet
Now is the time for the shiny new marketing tactics. Have you been itching to do a podcast? Is it way past time you did a webinar? If there are 3-5 things you really want to try, and think would work great, now is the time to make your case for why they deserve your time and energy. This is also a great time to refer back to your analysis of your competitor’s content. Are they doing anything that seems to be working really well? Should you try that tactic?
5) Determine how much time and resources it will take to create the content you want, given the results you’ve been getting thus far
By now you know what you want to do. Now it’s time to define what it’s going to take to get it done. Spell all that out, down to things like how long it takes you to write a blog post and to promote it. Find out how much time and resources it will take to do what you want to do.
Take note that it’s going to take longer than you think. And when you tally all this up, you’re going to realize there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. For the moment, that’s okay. For now, just figure out what it will take, all the way down to advertising budgets, or even hiring a virtual assistant.
6) Trim your plan down to fit the hours you actually have
Now you do the reality check. Because while we all want to publish two blog posts a week, do a podcast, guest post, write a book and become LinkedIn rock stars, most of us don’t have the time to do all that. We have to pick and choose. So figure out what you can automate or streamline in your content creation and promotion. Then cut back your tasks until they fit into the hours you actually have.
Do not weep if you discover you barely have even five hours a week for all this content marketing stuff. For most solopreneurs, that’s about average. Small businesses can usually only muster 10-15 hours. That’s actually enough to get quite a lot done, especially if it is all focused on meeting your business goals.
Trello is a free project management tool. It has a calendar view and can be synced with Google Calendar.
7) Plan out what your progress will look like, day by day, for the next three months
Don’t try to plan any further out than that. If all goes well, you’re going to learn so much in the next few months that you’ll need a new content marketing plan and strategy assessment in three months.
It is important to actually write out this plan. You can use a Google Drive calendar and spreadsheets if you want, or there are dozens of project management tools. At the moment, I’m using Trello combined with Google Calendar and a few Google spreadsheets, and it’s working very well. I also have a huge three foot by five foot calendar on my wall that shows the next six weeks of work. But that’s just me – do whatever works for you. One thing I have learned: Simple systems are almost always the easiest to maintain.
Finally, you execute your plan. If you’re a solopreneur, try to find an accountability partner, or a mastermind group. They can make all the difference. Now that you have the necessary 7 steps, share with us in the comments below what are your thoughts!
If you're looking for more inspiration, check out this free Content Marketing Essentials for 2015 Guide that we've prepared for you! There's plenty of valuable information and examples waiting for you, so get your coffee and a note-pad ready. You'll definitely want to write this down and present to your team when you're back in the office.