I’ve been trying the draw a picture of content strategy, and it’s difficult. When most of us read the word ‘strategy’ we think of moving chess pieces around a board. Or players around a field. But if you ask, what does content strategy look like, it’s a more complex answer. It has to account for relationships between ideas, as well as changes over time. But even allowing for that, I think I can do it.
It looks like a Christmas tree built on a fidget spinner.
Let me explain.
How to understand what a content strategy is
A content strategy is a plan with a particular goal in mind. In your case, that goal is an individual customer. Your content is the ideas and advice in your communication with that individual customer.
How you choose to communicate–through a blog post, or a magazine, or a podcast, or a video–is up to you. Just choose one that you like, and that you feel comfortable with. They are all just ways of communicating content, and are all equal.
The important thing is having a clear idea about that individual customer. You might not know their name, but you have to know what problems they have that you can help them with. That’s why you develop marketing personas.
That customer is at the top of your Christmas tree. Think of them as the star on top.
What does content strategy look like?
The next stage of your strategy is working out what that customer wants to know, and how you can help them. And a way of working that out is to use all the free tools available for you for digital marketing.
It’s really important to note that these free tools are useful even if you’re not planning on doing any digital marketing as part of your content strategy. What they do is give you an idea to focus on, and a lot of different ways to approach that idea.
There is one company that has famously hired some of the smartest people in the world to come up with a free computer program that guesses what people want to know. That company is Google, and their free program is their search engine. Google’s primary function and mission statement is to help people find what they’re looking for. The way they put it is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
There are two basic ideas that are important to Google that will also inform your content strategy. They are keywords and autocomplete.
Using keywords the right way for content
Most companies can come up with a few short words that describe the product or service their ideal customer wants. Those keywords might reflect three different stages in their buying process. For example, your company might sell lights. A customer who needs to buy lights might be motivated to do so because they are renovating their house. So “home renovation” might be a major keyword you might want to target.
If you were going to use your website and digital marketing techniques to attract customers, you would create a page around that keyword. But you don’t have to do that straight away for your strategy.
What you do instead is type that major keyword into Google and see what it suggests. When you do a search nowadays, even as you type words in, Google gives suggestions as to what you might be looking for. That’s their autocomplete function. The suggestions presented to you are all based on searches other people have done around this keyword. These are your long-tail keywords.
Also, at the bottom of the page, there is often a list of other suggestions, under the heading “Related searches”.
This is where the fidget spinner comes in
Imagine your major keyword being in a circle in the centre of a page. Write all those phrases from the autocomplete function and the related search suggestions around that circle, with lines linking each one into it.
What you have there is the Fidget Spinner of Content Strategy. That’s partly what content strategy looks like. The central idea is both a keyword, and a part of your editorial mission statement. Each of the suggestions around it are article topics, or podcast topics, or blog posts that you are going to write. Each one of them will relate in some way to that central idea.
In digital marketing, you would call that central idea ‘cornerstone content’ or ‘pillar content’.
Now to your Christmas tree
Turn your attention away from the cornerstone content and towards all of those individual article topics. As you read through the list, you’ll notice some of those topics would be directly about your product and services. Other ones would be more peripheral—they lend themselves to talking about problems or issues the ideal customer might be having.
The base of your Christmas tree will be made up with those broad topics, because there will be more broad topics than you have products or services. The middle of the tree will be those articles that solve the problems that those broad topics bring up. The answers in those topics might not directly relate to your products or services, but many of the solutions will apply to more than one problem. There will be fewer of them as a result.
Finally, the top bit of your tree, just before the star, will be your solutions, and an explanation of why they are the best solution.
Turn your tree upside down
Now that you’ve done that, turn your Christmas tree upside down so the star is at the bottom and the Fidget Spinner of Strategy is at the top. What you have is a process for identifying what a customer wants to know (the fidget spinner); a sales funnel (going from awareness to closure); and an ideal customer at the end of the process (the star!).
That is what a content strategy looks like. It starts with a plan, is filled out by a process, and ends in a definite result.