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Content is the heart and soul of just about everything that happens online. Everywhere you click, it’s competing for eyeballs, building brand reputations and educating consumers.

Blogs, photos, posts, podcasts, newscasts, webcasts, videos, banner ads, user reviews, listicles, link pages and live chats…if it can be downloaded, distributed and delivered electronically, it’s in demand.

But great content doesn’t happen by accident. To move the needle for your brand, you need to start with a strong content strategy. Content is king; content strategy is the kingmaker.

If the sea of online content seems like chaos, it is. Too many content producers work without a strategy, writing random articles and hoping they make waves – publish and pray. While 82% of marketers actively use content marketing, only 57% have a documented content marketing strategy.1,2

Not only is this a highly inefficient use of time and talent, but you’ll most likely get more crickets than calls. Worse yet, you might attract the WRONG audience, wasting even more of your resources.

Aligning content, brand strategy, digital marketing and business goals with well-thought-out content marketing planning is the first step to offering real value and standing out from the crowd. That’s why 78% of brands that say they’re “successful” with content have that strategy in place.3

Tactically, a thorough strategy gives you a detailed map to follow, as well as milestones and benchmarks to measure progress. You can plan ahead, see what’s working, adjust when and where needed and make sure your content remains of high quality and high utility.

Strategically, a strategy also helps you:

  • Define the customer journey and plot touchpoints that make a difference
  • Set meaningful targets with mechanisms to measure and standards of success
  • Generate new and better leads over long periods of time (content marketing gets 3x more leads than paid search)2
  • Improve the conversion rates of those leads
  • Build brand awareness and educate your audience about what problem your brand solves
  • Generate repeat traffic and a loyal following – the goal of every brand
  • Transform from a transactional brand to a brand of value

Digital content is easy to identify. The strategy behind the content…not so much.

Just as there are many unique brand strategies, and an infinite number of content possibilities, there are many unique ways to plan, create and manage your content.

Content strategy goals can vary greatly. In a recent survey, the top three stated goals were increasing brand awareness (45% of respondents); increasing website traffic (37%); and generating leads (36%).2

If you’re after brand awareness, you might look at producing a consistent stream of shareable content. If you’re simply looking to drive site traffic, you might focus on thought leadership content that attracts crosslinking from other sites. Or if you want to generate leads and fill your sales pipeline, gated content that captures opt-in contact information might be your best strategy.

Content goals can also determine the model for how your content is distributed:

Cluster Pillar
Starts with a larger comprehensive piece of content, like a guide, overview or class. This hub is supported by several smaller “pillar” pieces that dive deeper into related topics and link back to the main piece and each other – the cluster. kills it with this model.

Focuses on getting keywords and phrases to the top of searches, designing content specifically to appeal to search algorithms. While cluster-pillar is one type of SEO strategy, it doesn’t have to involve thought leadership. Curated lists and retrospectives are perfect examples.

Subject matter expert: Like cluster-pillar, there’s a sense of thought leadership involved, but the emphasis is more on direct education and building useful tools than creating a connected library of content. Think webinars, podcasts, polls and interactive tools.

In the end, content marketing strategy is the set of guidelines that add measurability to content performance and brand engagement. It spells out what’s created and who it’s for, where it shows up and when, and most importantly, why you’re doing it in the first place.

You can save yourself a lot of frustration and wasted time with a detailed content plan. We can’t tell you what should be in your plan; it’s different for everyone. Creating a strategy that fits your brand and your organization starts before the first piece is even published.

A strong content strategy can clearly answer these questions:
WHO do you want to reach? Define your target audience. What do they need, what questions do they have, what words and terms are they searching on? Maybe consider doing some persona research.

WHY are you creating content? Define your goals. What do you want your audience to do: subscribe, read, join or buy? What problem will you be solving? What need are you filling?

HOW can you best engage? Know your audience. Choose a content setup that fits their mindset and preferences.

            Frequency – daily, weekly, monthly (hourly?)

            Format – text, video, images

            Channels – website, blog, email, social media platforms, organic vs paid search

            Role – entertain, educate, help, persuade

WHAT is your niche? Find your space in the conversation. What makes your content worthwhile and different? Start with a content audit of your own website (65% of successful brands do this),2 followed by a competitive audit, and you can see what’s working, what’s in demand and where the gaps and opportunities are.

WHEN should you publish? Plan ahead. Every good content plan needs an editorial calendar. Brainstorm loads of ideas in advance, be clear about roles and deadlines at every step of content production, and establish a realistic (yet steady) publishing pace.

Once your plan is in place, a content management system can help you keep it on track. The best programs help you create and publish the content, manage scheduling and measure results.

You have a plan in place, content calendar in your pocket and you’re ready to churn out a never-ending stream of viral sensations. Here are some tips that can help keep the momentum rolling.

  1. Leverage data to understand your audience and target your message
  2. Look beyond blog posts; polls, ebooks, videos, tools, interviews, slideshows, and infographics can also capture attention
  3. Think quality over quantity; improving content quality is the #1 tactic used to make content strategy more successful;2 one piece of great content can get saved, passed along and linked to long into the future
  4. Invest in interactive content and audience engagement
  5. Optimize for SEO, but don’t overdo it; keep things helpful and natural and you’ll be fine
  6. Listen to your audience and use their feedback to improve your content
  7. Don’t try to be perfect; be willing to experiment and make mistakes
  8. Be ready to adapt at any time
  9. Keep at it; great content takes time, patience and practice

Great content creation depends on your ability to predict what your audience will respond to. You could rely on gut feelings or popular trends or wild guesses. We recommend using data instead.

Without data, it’s difficult to know which pieces are most effective and why – not surprisingly, 31% of content marketers struggle to create content that resonates with their audience.2

But WITH data, you can focus on and understand your desired audience. You know what they want and like, who they listen to, what they care about. More data helps you become a better strategist and more effective content producer.

So hunt data relentlessly. Constantly test, experiment, stretch and refine your content approach. Study analytics like bounce rate, open rate, time on page, click through rates and click paths. Gather demographic information on your audience, as well as their preferences, needs and pain points.

With these data points and insights in hand, your content marketing strategy will only get stronger with time and experience.

At Madison Design, we help clients use research and data to define strategy, develop meaningful targets and test and refine content for maximum impact. Services include content strategy and planning, SEO, topic and keyword research, content gap analysis, A/B testing, brand personas, KPI alignment and customer journeys.


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1 HubSpot State of Marketing Report, 2021;

2 Semrush State of Content Marketing 2022 Global Report

3 Demand Metric Content Marketing Infographic