This post was originally published at AlexBirkett.com.
Content marketing strategy is something few companies do well.
This is something I’ve focused on for years, mostly because all the companies I’ve worked for, from super early stage startups to HubSpot where I work now, have been largely supported by content marketing (in one way or another).
However, each company’s content marketing strategy was different, though all of them successful.
Most blog posts on content marketing strategy focus on what are assuredly tactical considerations – stuff like how many words your blog posts should be, what content format you should produce, and how to share on social to make shit go viral.
Even the good advice on content marketing strategy is usually too narrow – it comes only from the direction of the company giving it. If something works for Microsoft, that doesn’t mean it works for a startup, and vice versa.
Introduction to Content Marketing Strategy: What We’ll Cover
If you’re new to content marketing, read the whole thing. If you care about a particular section, jump around.
- Preparing for Battle
- The Economics of Content
- Content Planning
- Content Creation
- Content Auditing and Maintenance
Yep, it’s gonna be a big guide. Let’s do this.
Preparing for Battle (the Building Blocks of Content Strategy)
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu
Knowing yourself consists of knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and it also consists of knowing who your customer is and how you will reach them (and win their love and loyalty).
Knowing your enemy means knowing the competitive landscape as well as the content marketing space as a whole, and understanding how you can operate on an edge that you can win.
We can also say: know your landscape. This consists in knowing not only your customer and your competition, but the influencers, blogs, publications, and platforms you can use to distribute and amplify your content, and how you can use these tools to reach your potential customers.
You do all this before you ever put pen to paper, by the way; but you also refine this knowledge over time and with new learnings.
Buyer Personas (a Quick and Dirty Guide)
The first thing to think about when embarking on a content marketing program is who you’re hoping to reach. Who is your buyer, how do they prefer to learn about products, and what type of language do they use to describe their problems and hopes?
For these questions, buyer personas can be invaluable.
These aren’t just content marketing problems, of course. Personas are also helpful for product strategy and go-to-market strategy, among other things.
I’ll briefly cover the dos and don’ts of buyer personas here, but if you want a really robust method of doing personas, read this guide.
First, what is a persona? This is my favorite definition:
“Personas are fictional representations and generalizations of a cluster of your target userswho exhibit similar attitudes, goals, and behaviors in relation to your product. They’re human-like snapshots of relevant and meaningful commonalities in your customer groups and are based on user research.”
I’ve bolded several parts, because I think ignoring them is largely why most personas suck and why they fail.
Fictional representations: Your persona isn’t a real person, so it shouldn’t be a successful customer or account you choose to profile. It’s a generalization that is used to help craft messaging, campaigns, and business decisions, so it needs to be somewhat loose and archetypical.
Cluster of your target users: Your persona won’t be a one-to-one match for each individual customer. Think about it as a mean – variance means that each individual data point (customer) will still probably vary from the average (your persona), but defining the average (the center of the cluster) will still help you reach each individual data point in the cluster.
In relation to your product: Your persona’s characteristics should map to things related to your product and the buying process that a customer goes through to reach your product and use it. The dimensions you define shouldn’t be stupid and irrelevant things like their eye color, gender, or if they like to ski (unless you sell skis).
Relevant and meaningful: I just wanted to repeat that your persona shouldn’t be a cheesy representation of a cartoon character with a cute name and hobbies and interests that aren’t relevant to what you’re doing with your business. Leave the superfluous character development to your novel writing side hustle.
Based on user research: Very important! Don’t make shit up! Do your research. Apply evidence-based personas, and you’ll make better decisions. Though you’ll never reach the perfect representation of your customer, you do want what you define to be accurate.
So a good persona might look like this:
A bad persona might look like this:
I’m not trilingual (yet), and it probably wouldn’t matter if I were (unless you’re Duolingo or teaching people how to learn Spanish). 3.23 blog posts is too specific to be useful, and it doesn’t matter that I’m male, 27 years old, or that I enjoy extreme sports, if what you’re selling is a SaaS tool to better manage your client proposals. And what an atrociously distracting stock photo
A good heuristic: if a model helps you make better decisions, it’s a good model. There’s no perfect model, but models should be consistently directionally accurate and useful. If your persona helps you reach your audience with content, it’s worth creating.
Another note: your personas aren’t static. Audiences change, and so do product strategies. Additionally, you’ll learn more about your customers as you progress, so take a look at your personas every three to six months and update them.
Content Audiences (and Why It Isn’t Always Your Core Customer/User)
Defining your customer is one thing, and it’s important. But it’s also important to note that, in content marketing strategy, your audience isn’t always your customers…
See, sometimes your primary audience (who you produce content for) is different than the end audience (your customer). If SEO is your main model, then you’ll need backlinks to make it work, and very few of your customers will have the ability to give you authoritative backlinks.
Even if you’re drumming up awareness and educating an industry on a product they’ve never heard of (and didn’t know how to search for), you’re often speaking first to the influencers in the space, who then in turn speak to your customers.
So the question then becomes: who are your industries influencers? Sometimes, at least in SEO, we call these people the Linkerati (those in power with the ability to bestow powerful backlinks).
Your best bet is to do three things:
- Know the landscape (understand who is powerful).
- Make friends with the influencers.
- Craft content so it appeals to their tastes.
If everyone did just these three steps, you’d hear far fewer people complain about poor results from their content marketing.
Here are five methods for mapping out your influencer landscape/Linkerati:
- Ask your customers who they read/trust when you do persona research
- Find top influencers using Buzzsumo (and other methods)
- Find top blogs and publications using Ahrefs (and other methods)
- Find “underground” channels where influencers congregate
- Find the top conferences and meetups in your space
In my opinion, you should do all of these things. If you want content marketing to really work well, networking and relationships shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a core part of how you operate. As Robert Greene suggests, “Do Not Build Fortresses To Protect Yourself (Isolation Is Dangerous).”
1. Ask your customers who they read/trust when you do persona research
If you talk to your customers, ask them what they read.
I build this into my persona research. When I send out customer surveys, I include a few questions like:
- How do you learn new skills/info? (scale, followed by a bunch of factors like “blogs” and “conferences”)
- What publications do you read? (open ended)
You’ll sometimes find that different personas have different tastes in blogs and content. This is an important thing to note, as it can define how your form comarketing partnerships and PR launches.
2. Find top influencers
Apart from publications, you want to identify individuals who command a ton of influence and reach. Sometimes you’ll know these people just by knowing your space. For example, if you’re in the CRO or Analytics spaces, you know that Peep Laja and Avinash Kaushik are influential names.
But if you want to formalize the research process, BuzzSumo is a great tool for this:
You can also look for “top influencers to follow on Twitter lists,” but I wouldn’t stop at these, since they tend to be circle jerks that list the same people on every list. That means the people on the list are constantly getting hounded with requests, so they’ll be less likely to work with you (and probably not as effective anyway).
3. Find top blogs and publications
Content marketing almost always relies on SEO as a distribution avenue, so you’ll want to find the top blogs in your space. First and foremost, look at Ahrefs to find similar domains to your own and your top competitors:
I like to find which sites link to competitors content as well:
Second, you can use a tool like Growth Bot to find organic competitors to different blogs:
Third, you can scrape those awful software comparison aggregator sites like Capterra to find others in your immediate and secondary product categories.
Finally, you probably know a lot of the top blogs or you can search for them with queries like:
“Top [keyword] blogs in [year]”
Put all of these on a spreadsheet with their corresponding domain authority. A fast way to find domain authority is with a bulk domain analyzer such that Ahrefs has.
4. Find “underground” channels where influencers congregate
The people who matter usually talk to each other, and not always on public forums. Sometimes there are Slack groups, and sometimes there are Facebook or LInkedIn groups. Sometimes it happens in person. I can’t speak to the industry you operate in, but you need to get to know it well enough to know where these secret circles are and how you can get invited in. These are probably the most important piece.
5. Find the top conferences and meetups in your space
Gotta get outside and actually meet people face to face sometimes. I find this is my greatest leverage point, as most people just cold email behind a computer, but if you can share a beer with people you can form a true bond. Plus, the “off the record” conversations you have at conferences will far outweigh the value of any content that is written for a public audience.
SWOT and Strategy Audits
That means you should never copy someone’s strategy just because it works for them (or God forbid because you saw a representative give a talk at a conference).
In almost all cases, the best case scenario by copying someone’s strategic playbook is that you’ll hit some local maximum that lies somewhere near mediocrity.
HubSpot can publish a handful of articles on long tail search keywords every day and they’ll beat you all day at consistent content execution.
Brian Dean is uniquely suited to publishing infrequent, super comprehensive pieces specifically on the topic of SEO.
CXL didn’t invent research-based long form content, but we executed it to near perfect on a consistent basis. It’d be hard to outperform CXL mimicking that form of content production (at least if you’re also competing for conversion optimization search terms).
So you need to find your edge and exploit it.
How do you do that?
If you’ve ever taken a business class, your eyes may be glossing over at my mention of SWOT Analysis. Or maybe you’re a nerd like me, and you actually enjoy this process.
Whatever the case, the SWOT Analysis is a helpful thought exercise.
How do you complete one? You create a 2X2 matrix, with quadrants representing the following quadrants:
Strengths and Weaknesses are polar opposites, but they’re both internal facing (what are your specific company’s strengths or weaknesses?). Similarly, Opportunities and Threats are yin and yang, but they are outward faces (what market conditions represent opportunities or threats?)
If we imagine a random SaaS company coming out of Y Combinator, one with a serial founder, we can fill out their hypothetical SWOT:
Estimating Impact and Feasibility
You also need to weigh your ability to rank for given keywords or compete in your niche. I’m diving into this deeper in the “content economics” section, but briefly, in your SWOT audit, you should think about the feasibility of your strategy.
“The biggest hurdle of SEO is knowing what is realistic and what is not, and then being able to decide which is the right lever to pull at that moment. For a site like HubSpot.com, we have a TON of backlinks (which gives the site a load of authority). When we create new content around marketing/sales/service it will tend to rank a lot better than smaller sites because we’ve built up this authority over a number of years. That means we get WAY more leverage from ramping up content creation than a brand new (or even smaller) site.
For a new site, I generally try to shift the focus to building authority vs just publishing a bucket load of content. The questions I try to ask is, “how can I build a steady flow of backlinks into the website?” and “how can I grow the number of people searching for my brand name?” instead of “how can I create as much content as possible.” This sounds simple, but there’s a lot that goes into figuring all this out, and it’s where 9/10 misspent cash comes from.”
While most of this article will focus on SEO, and thus keywords, it’s important to note that’s not the only route to content marketing success and it’s not the only way to bring in customers. In some industries, say the SaaS management niche, buyer’s don’t know what they’re looking for. Or there’s no real word for the term yet, at least not one that is searched frequently.
In spaces like these, there are strategies as well, normally in the form of “thought leadership” style content (also called “movement first” content). Think about HubSpot’s early evangelization of “inbound marketing,” WaitButWhy, or how Paul Graham or Sam Altman write.
Anyway, if you can pull of that style of writing, the one where people simply search your name in Google so they can read your brilliant insights – well, you don’t really need my advice, just keep writing.
The Economics of Content
All content has a cost and an associated return.
Some content, such as roundup posts or listicles, is easy and cheap to produce (and therefore easy to replicate and scale).
Some content, such as original research or thought leadership based on years of experience, is hard and expensive to produce (and thus more difficult to scale, but also more difficult for your competitors to replicate).
In the early stages, it’s likely you’re going to need to work hard and spend more to outcompete the bigger players in your space. Because you have a low domain authority, you’ll need to make up for it in content quality.
Additionally, since you have no audience or build in brand recognition, you need to break through the ‘noise’ in the blogging space, of which there is a ton. Normally this means overindexing on “awareness” level content in the beginning, with the goal that you can eventually easy rank your “consideration” and “decision” stage content that actually brings in the bacon.
However, as you begin to produce content regularly and to learn more about SEO, you’ll likely learn what your “hotspot” is – the minimum effective dose required to rank blog posts and convert visitors. Any additional cost above this reduces your ROI, and especially at scale, incurs consecutive marginal costs.
Normally, it takes an ungodly amount of effort to rank in the beginning stages (up to a DA of about 50 or 60), and then the curve begins to flatten (though never completely) in the upper echelons of website authority. When your DA is that high, as long as your site architecture and technical SEO best practices are followed, you can rank posts with a slightly lower quality (though never too low).
Your long term goal in a content marketing program is to lower the cost of content production as low as you can without compromising on brand promises or return on content efforts.
At HubSpot, we’re roughly between the “templated content” and “user-generated” content stages. Now, we can produce comparison pages like this one:
We can also very quickly rank “consideration” level listicles, which are comparatively easy to produce and bring in a very high conversion rate for blog posts:
The effectiveness of templatized content only comes with scale and maturity though. For one, you need the domain authority to rank tons of posts without crafting individual promotion or link building campaigns for each (which would rapidly augment the costs of your content marketing program).
Second, you need a lot of production resources and infrastructure to make templatized content work at scale, especially if you’ll be running SEO experiments on them or hoping to do any conversion optimization on them.
Content marketing, like many facets of marketing, is a flywheel. The more you add to it and the more energy you put into it, the faster it spins (and the rewards compound with time). You put in the effort early in order to reap the rewards later.
So in the beginning, it may help to plan out your transactional pages and bottom funnel content. But don’t expect to rank that stuff incredibly quickly without having some solid strategy to build up your authority. Generally, you can do this through a) lots of high traffic/high interest awareness level content on the same topic b) a shit load of link building or c) being in an uncompetitive space.
…or some combination of the three. However, if you want to make content marketing work, in the beginning you should expect to invest a lot more time than you’d like to in awareness level content (it’s the leverage that gets you the returns down the line).
How Much Does it Cost to Produce Content That “Wins”?
- How much effort do you have to put into a piece of content to get it to rank?
- How many words is it?
- How long does it take your writer to write?
- How many hours of promotion, link building, and distribution do you need?
The potential “cost” here is infinite (just look at a WaitButWhy article). There’s usually a point of diminishing returns you want to aim for with production quality and cost. The tough part: it’s really hard to prescriptively say what that is for any given industry.
In B2B SaaS, it used to be that you could write a 2500 word article with an added infographic, because all the others were only 2000 words. It’s becoming harder to do that because of increased competition. Additionally, it’s not only about word count, but about content density.
Now, in B2B SaaS, you may actually have to invest in a “topic cluster” that consists of many slightly related blog posts if you want to have a chance ranking any of them, let alone all of them. It might require significant link building as well.
(More on constructing Pillars and Clusters below)
In general, the best way to gauge the content quality necessary to rank is to look at what’s currently ranking for keywords you want to go after. This can be as simple as a Google search (even better if you’ve installed Mozbar to see DA and backlinks):
You can also use Ahrefs’ keyword explorer to view the landscape of a search term:
Finally, after writing a few posts and seeing where they land after publication, you can get an intuitive sense of how strong your site authority is. This gives you a fingerspitzengefühl when it comes to content production.
Maximizing Resources & ROI
When you understand how much effort it takes to rank, you can model out what it would cost to achieve the goals your organization hopes to achieve.
Let’s say it takes, on average, a 5000 word pillar page to rank for super competitive terms (“customer satisfaction”) and 2000 words to rank for long tail and less competitive terms (“how to measure customer satisfaction”). Let’s say a 5000 word costs you $1000 and a 2000 word post costs you $300. In addition, you need to do some manual content promotion and link building, and let’s say that costs about $250 per blog post and $750 per pillar page.
Now, you can tie that in with any SLA or quarterly traffic and conversion goals you have. It makes it vastly easier to calculate a content budget, and it also helps you to realize if your plan, given the costs, will even potentially be able to hit your goals you’ve set.
Basically, just calculate your minimum viable production capacity as well as the maximum resources you could potentially allot to your content marketing program.
- What’s the average time to produce a piece of content?
- How many producers (writers, designers, etc.) can you put on task?
- What’s the average time of promotion and distribution?
- Given those numbers, how many pieces of content can your produce in 1 year (and 1 month)? Does that match up with your expectations in terms of traffic or conversions?
- If not, which levers can you tweak to meet those goals?
Here is where knowing how to build a growth model helps a ton.
Ian Howells had an even more robust way to model out search traffic potential. Here’s a quote from his GrowthHackers AMA:
“I use a blend of search volume, intent, and “attainable position”. With any given project, I look to find the leader in the space. So if I was going to work on a site about outdoor/camping products, I’d likely toss REI into aHrefs and spit out all their keywords over 500 searches per month.
I’d then make an assumption about how close I could get to REI’s rankings – say (for sake of argument) I was assuming I can get to 4 spots lower than REI. I’ll just run a new column in excel/google sheets adding 4 to all of their rankings.
That new “attainable position” plus a CTR curve gets me a ballpark on the amount of traffic I could realistically hope to get for the site.
A pivot table to roll these up by page then gives me a map of what pages I need and what the potential traffic is per page. I’ll start with the biggest opp pages and just work my way down.”
Content Planning: Creating a Roadmap and Course of Action
At this point, we have a rock solid strategic underpinning as well as a content growth model and expectations of how to hit our goals. Now how the hell do we plan and produce the actual content?
This section will cover keyword research (topic ideation), content production, and promotion.
How Buyers Search, and How Searchers Buy
We’ve touched on the idea of the buyer’s journey already, but generally speaking, it looks like this:
We start at a high level, attracting general readers who probably don’t know about your business yet. Through compelling content and search strategy, we hope to bring them down to the consideration and decision stages, where hopefully they’ll choose to buy from us.
In content marketing strategy, each stage has specific goals.
Awareness stage goals:
- Build links and domain authority + page rank.
- Cast a wide net and bring in relevant traffic (though it may not convert right away, except maybe to an email list or lead magnet).
- Build up your “topical authority” and expertise to help you rank commercial terms.
- Build relationships with influencers and movers and shakers in your field
- Build demand and interest.
Consideration/Decision stage goals:
- Convert traffic into users or customers.
- Rank for core business terms.
- Educate buyers and differentiate your business.
- Capture demand.
A proper content strategy includes all parts of the buyer’s journey. An unbalanced strategy will never produce the results that a holistic one will.
Business KPIs and What to Track
I’ll breeze through this part because your specific goals will depend on your business. Generally speaking though, you’ll want a way to track the following:
- Website traffic data (traffic source, pageviews, etc)
- SERP tracking (position, CTR, visibility)
- Conversions and business metrics (average order value, email signups, etc)
Depending on your business, those business metrics could vary. Sometimes, it’s a simple as an email subscription. Sometimes, it’s a marketing qualified lead. Sometimes it’s a customer.
Who am I to tell you your business’s goals though? Jot these down before you begin creating content and make sure you have a way to track them.
To start with keyword research, I like to get a bird’s eye view of the space I’m trying to conquer. For this, you can use Ahrefs to analyze competitors’ sites and see what they’re ranking for. Start by plugging your own in (or if you haven’t started writing, your closest competitor):
You can then use their “competing domains” report to find others in the space.
Without fancy tools, you can also just do a quick Google search for blogs in your niche.
Compile all of these and list their corresponding domain authority in a spreadsheet.
Now, Ahrefs has a really cool tool called “content gap” analysis that lets you plug in a bunch of competitors and see what they rank for but you don’t:
The report looks like this, which you can simply export to CSV.
Or you can individually analyze each website.
If you choose that route, I like the “top pages” report. So much value here!
What you’re trying to do at this step is get a big ass list of keywords that a whole bunch of sites in your niche rank for, but you don’t. Don’t worry about curating the list at this point, just get a big list and put it in a spreadsheet.
Content Strategy Models (Pillar & Cluster Model)
Now that we have a big list of keywords, we want to organize this in some meaningful content model.
Even if we had unlimited time and resources, we’d still want to prioritize the list so we could rank for important keywords faster (thus reaping more of the rewards over time), and so we can strictly curate our site to build topical authority (which Google seems to like – depth over breadth).
Now, there are tons of content models. I like to combine two of them to make a workable content roadmap (or a search insights report, as we refer to it at HubSpot). To start, I like to map out my keywords based on user intent. This is a reflection of the buyer’s journey:
It depends on the business I’m working with what the exact discrete stages are, but I work from high traffic/low intent (awareness) keywords down to low traffic/high intent keywords. At HubSpot, I break normally break terms into “What,” “How,” “Considerations & Tool Discovery” and core decision keywords.
Now we’ve at least broken things down into discrete customer journey stages, but we still need to group things thematically. The goal of this is to internal link all related posts to show Google they are similar, which helps us build “topical authority.” The best framework I know for this is the Pillar and Cluster model.
Basically, you plan out a big pillar page topic (“Digital Marketing”) and then write several shorter posts that target longer tail keywords that related to the core term (“How to Become a Digital Marketer”).
Adding a step, I actually like to start from a core product term and work my way outwards. So in this case, my product page would be a “customer feedback software” tool, then I could build a pillar page on “the ultimate guide to customer satisfaction” and then create tons of related blog posts to help it rank.
Also note that you can have many clusters that tie-in together. For example, “digital marketing” is related to “lead generation” and “email marketing” as they’re all sort of under the umbrella of marketing. Here’s an example from our work on Hubspot’s Service Hub:
And here’s a URL map we planned for a “forms” cluster (though in reality it ended up being slightly different):
Eventually, I like to build up clusters that contain a product page, one pillar page, and several cluster blog posts.
Sometimes, if the website is mature enough and there are enough “decision” level terms, I like to add in “sub-product” or “sub-service” pages. These are children of a parent service. So if you have a product, “popup forms,” that is your parent product, then you may have sub-features that still get search volume like “exit intent popup” or “scroll trigger popup.” Thematically, they belong in the same cluster.
Another use case for a tool like this is to find related keywords that you can use in a big pillar page. In other words, if you’re writing a big blog post on “content marketing strategy” (*ahem*), you may want to include sections or phrases like “content marketing strategy checklist” and “what is content strategy.”
Or you may want to build them into separate posts if they have enough search volume.
Another tool to find related keywords is answerthepublic.com. This is one of my all time favorite content planning tools when it comes to actually writing the post:
Both of these tools are great at helping you fill out an outline for your pillar pages and ultimate guides:
Content Creation: Production That Gets Results
Finally! Time to actually produce content.
The important point here is that we want to bake in promotion elements into the content itself so the piece does well upon publication. Publish and pray is not a strategy.
With that in mind, especially for my “awareness” level content, I love to build in “link hooks” that help different the piece and make it easier to promote and pick up steam naturally.
Link + Share hooks
There are a million ways to differentiate content, but here are 7 I like:
- Original images
- Data & Research
- Original Charts
- New frameworks with made up names
- Quotes from experts
- Pros & Cons tables
- Controversial Hot Takes
Aaaaand examples of each…
Data and Research
Frameworks with made up names
Quotes from experts
Pros and Cons tables
Controversial Hot Takes
Before I ever publish a post, I make sure I have a very clear idea of where I’m going to promote it. Most of the time, I like to build out a sort of “PR launch list” that includes blogs, influencers, and communities that fit into these three categories:
- Tier 1 is high authority and high relevance. A lot of the time, these sites are super competitive with the terms i’m going for, so very hard to snag a link from.
- Tier 2 is really where I spend most of my time. Complementary (noncompetitive) sites that aren’t insanely high authority. This is where you can get the most bang for your buck with link building especially.
- Then Tier 3 is mid to high authority but not as relevant. Here we can consider general marketing or business blogs like business2community.
I think it’s a great exercise for anyone to map these people and places out, even if you think you know your space super well. I guarantee you’ll find some good link/partner/promotion opportunities you hadn’t even considered. Other tools to find these targets:
- Scraping software comparison sites for key categories
- Find link roundups in your niche
- Work with agency partners or integration partners
- Find Slack groups in your niche
Don’t forget communities and social spread:
- Designer News
- Hacker News
- Growth Hackers
- Slack Groups
Then make sure you store all this in a spreadsheet (or even better, a CRM).
Now, I like to bucket promotion into two categories: Short Term + Long Term.
First, you want a short term spike to drive attention and traffic to your post in the first place.
This helps get the early adopters on board and it spurs a bit of organic social traffic. These things are secondary signals that may actually help your organic rankings later on (secondary because presumably they aren’t direct ranking factors, though they can bring influential people to your site who may share and link to it later).
For that, at least for my industry and content, I usually throw the posts on a few communities I’m active in.
I email it out to my list.
And I share on social.
That’s basically it. I really just want a short traffic spike, and I know that I mostly hate the promotion aspect of this sport, so I do the minimum effective dose. Then I focus all my core efforts on the long term promotion, which is really just link building and content optimization (which we’ll talk about in a few sections). For now, link building.
Sometimes, I’ll do cold email outreach, especially if I’m really trying to promote a piece (for example, my recent guide on A/B testing is something I’ve put more than normal time into). If you want a big guide on that, check this out.
Honestly, though, most of the time I just ask people I know well to put a mention in a post they have or I do guest posting. Relationships trump cheap tactics, especially when it comes to outreach.
Back to the point I made earlier about not isolating yourself. Get to know people in your industry and broader space as well. It’s all about digging the well before you’re thirsty.
As I mentioned in a previous section, you want to measure the three big things:
- Website analytics
- Search metrics and rank tracking
- Conversion & business data
While there are a million other things you can track nowadays, those are the core of any content marketing analytics approach.
As for website analytics, Google Analytics is really the gold standard. There are other tools, tons of them actually, but Google Analytics is the one I’m most used to and most comfortable with.
Bonus if you set up goals for things like email signups, and even better if you set up interesting event tracking, like scroll depth and behavioral stuff like banner interactions. I wrote a massive guide on content analytics, so check that out if you want to nerd out.
Next, if your content marketing strategy is search focused (which it probably should be), you’ll want to measure your rankings. The analog to this if your strategy is social focused would be some sort of social media monitoring tool like HootSuite.
For SEO, I like to use a combination of Ahrefs and Search Console, and also Screaming Frog for the occasional crawl.
Finally, make sure you can attribute business results to your content marketing. Often this can be done quite simply in Google Analytics using goals.
Sometimes, however, you’ll want to build a more robust data pipeline and data warehouse to create custom attribution models to weigh out the efficacy of your content.
That’s for fellow nerds though, most can get by with the data dashboards your marketing tool gives you…
All of these analytics solutions give you access to one of the most powerful (and underrated) levers in content marketing…content optimization.
I’ve written a massive guide on this one already, but the gist of it is that you can and should look back at old content to improve it. The cost of doing so is much lower than creating net new content (and remember our content economics model…the lower the cost to achieve the same return, the better).
Two ways to improve content:
- Boost rankings on content that almost ranks on page 1
- Boost conversions on underperforming (but high ranking) content.
I won’t go deeply into the tactical ways of doing those two things here, but if you’re interested in content optimization, check out my guide. I believe every serious content program should do this at least once a quarter, and if run a program that is truly mature, you may want to have a person or team that works on this.
Content Auditing and Maintenance
“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” – Niccolo Machiavelli
As suggested in the “content optimization” section, you need to stop and audit what you’re doing every once in a while – but at a level even higher than simply asking what content pieces could be doing better.
Every six months to a year, I think it’s important to take a step back, look at your KPIs and your associated results, and ask, “how are we doing?”
Not only that, but you should redo your SWOT every once in a while, because strengths and weakness change rapidly in this space (and so do opportunities and threats).
For instance, as you build domain authority, you add the strength of being able to rank more and more templatized/cheap content. However, as you build traffic via search, a threat may be your overreliance on Google as a channel. As such, a strategic may look into diversification.
Looking Forward & Balancing Your Portfolio
Normally, when starting out, you need to be narrowly focused on an acquisition channel, and even more so a tactic within that channel, and exploit the hell out of it while it still gives you returns. Then, over time, either the returns slow down (the law of shitty click throughs), or your reliance on the tactic or channel leads you to a fragile position.
In either case, a mature program diversifies and rebalances the portfolio every once in a while.
There are many portfolio models you could use in the game of content marketing strategy, but the one I like the most, as you scale, is a variation of the Barbell Strategy of investing. The definition from Wikipedia:
“One variation of the barbell strategy involves investing 90% of one’s assets in extremely safe instruments, such as treasury bills, with the remaining 10% being used to make diversified, speculative bets that have massive payoff potential. In other words, the strategy caps the maximum loss at 10%, while still providing exposure to huge upside”
In other words, continue to pour the vast majority of your resources and efforts into your safe, stable channel (probably a strong SEO-driven content program) and then pull a smaller percentage of your resources to work only on high volatility, experimental programs.
This way, you can cap your downside, continue to reap the rewards of your cash cow, but encourage innovation before other competitors move in on your slow moving machine.
Content marketing strategy is a tough thing to learn, but with time and pressure, you can master it.
Reading a guide like this will help (hopefully), but as with anything meaningful, you’ve got to plunge into the deep end and just figure things out for yourself.
There’s so much domain specificity here, that even though I’m aware of and disappointed in biased advice, there’s almost no way I’m not writing with some sort of bias (however hidden from myself).
However, this guide should give you a good starting framework to operate from, even if the specifics are slightly different in your case.