Digital marketers aim to discover what’s captivating about good content, then bottle it up for a wash, rinse, repeat. I’m here to let you in on a little secret: The magic isn’t in the content itself. It’s in the content strategy.
Behind every purposeful turn of phrase, hilarious video, or tear-jerking slideshow, is a great content strategy, based on a set of core principles that drive decisions from content medium to priority and placement. This is even truer in the digital space, where attention spans wane and motivations run amok.
Truth is, there are no hard and fast rules to what makes content great, but everyone in your organization who touches content, even tangentially, should be thinking like a content strategist. Here I’ve laid out a series of principles, which, when applied throughout your organization, will drive content and results in tandem. Rely on these principles to drive your web content, as well as the sites and social spaces it lives in, and you will reap the rewards. Take advantage of the quick application tips to get a strategic approach to content started in your organization right away.
Principle No. 1: Everything is content
This is the most challenging shift from traditional to digital marketing: Every piece of your production is content, from the posts on your blog to the tweets that promote them, to the steps in a shopping cart and call-to-action buttons. When you start treating every element of a digital experience as though it carries as much weight as the words on the page, you’ll be a leg up from most marketers. Good content strategy must be brought to life in good information architecture, user experience, design and optimization — before it even matters if the writing is good.
When it comes to what we typically think of content — words and pictures on a page — a great content strategy helps define what media are the best to drive audience response. For example, on Facebook, posts with photos generate over 53 percent more “likes” than text-only updates. According to a recent Pew study, 41 percent of adult internet users curate video and photo content. Combining the right media and the right placement will improve your content.
Specifics to consider:
• Champion the “everything is content” philosophy.
• Socialize the stats above to set the stage for your internal stakeholders. Get everyone within your company to understand the basics of content strategy and the role they play. Simply hearing the words will help drive the concept internally.
• Start your next website project by identifying all the aspects of each page and how it qualifies as content.
Principle No. 2: Content has an objective
At initial blush, this is a no brainer. We create content because we want our audience to do something — to buy, learn more, or love our brand. Your content should always point back to that core objective.
That doesn’t mean we don’t create content to make the audience laugh, cry, or learn more. Even entertaining or educational content should be a spoke from the core objective. Educational content might actually be used to drive a sale. Entertaining content might be used to create brand awareness.
Don’t mistake a necessary tactic for an objective — they’re not the same. Every piece of content says something about your brand. If your main contact email is “info@,” switch it to something atypical like “hello@” or “hi@.” This minor change gives your company a more conversational and relaxed persona — thereby making you more approachable. People notice the little things, even if it’s just one word. That one word serves a purpose you might consider outside the realm of “content” — but it isn’t.
Here’s another example: I’ve seen more brands than I’d care to count provide “add to cart” and “sign up for email” links side by side, and in the same color. That’s confusing to the user and strays from the core objective of moving the user toward a purchase. Don’t dilute your message or create clutter. Instead, use educational content, like “sign up for our email,” at points in the site where the user doesn’t have enough info to make a decision, or where the sale is already complete. And guide them toward making their purchase by putting the “buy now” link in where Amazon.com does — when the user has consumed enough information to spend.
Specifics to consider:
• Create a content strategy map. Put your main goal in a circle in the center. Then, plot out spokes for each of the executions, i.e., what each piece of content — video, slideshow, copy or image — is intended to do. With all the information laid out together, it’s easier to ensure that the original goals are being met.
Principle No. 3: Great content is cultivated
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and its buildings still stand — making it a treasure trove for visitors across centuries. So what’s the lesson here? You can retain great content longer if it’s optimized. And you can tear down and rebuild recent content that isn’t working. Do you have a content management system that lets you serve up unique experiences by user motivation? Even better — that’s more content for you to fine-tune.
If your business or brand goals change, you should change your content. As the industry changes, content needs to improve alongside it. For example, if your search rankings have been low as of late, consider adding video to YouTube and your site. Search is now inextricably intertwined with social. Bing includes photos from Facebook in search results and Google includes videos from YouTube. Facebook has its own graph search that returns results from both of those engines. As social continues to play a more significant role in search, and as consumer desires for other content forms grow, build both to give customers more to share.
Specifics to consider:
• Identify a company “content historian” who is responsible for archiving and tagging content. That way, you can store content for future use and update as needed.
• Create a schedule or text matrix for link testing so you can assess your site and schedule routine checks to confirm all outbound links are still active.
• Update your keyword strategy. Identify what keywords are driving to your topic, and update your current content to include new relevant keywords. Aim for the 2 to 5 percent keyword density SEO experts recommend without sacrificing meaning or experience.
Principle No. 4: Content performance matters
This is where content specialists need to think like analysts and vice versa. Content should constantly be tested and measured for relevance and whether it’s achieving the desired objective (see the second principle). You’ll want to create, test, improve or optimize, and test again. Content strategists are like good football coaches. They need a game plan, but if the offense is struggling, they make changes at halftime.
That editorial calendar you worked so hard to craft? It’s a great idea, but if it isn’t achieving results, you have to make adjustments. The conversations that your industry is having change along with the industry itself, so you can’t plan too far in advance. Use social to listen for hot topics in your industry and adjust to what’s trending by providing a relevant point of view that sticks to your key goals.
Specifics to consider:
• Identify an in-house trend-spotter. Chances are, this person already exists and their hunger for knowledge is simply underutilized. Have them report weekly (or as needed) on hot topics of conversation on the web. Then, adjust your editorial calendar and content to include those topics.
• Implement user testing on content prior to launching it. Use this feedback to make content better prior to putting it on your blog, site, or social channel.
Here’s one more key to content strategy: Forget the idea that there’s one content master. Everyone who creates UX, design, copy, or any other piece of content for your site or social communities should think about content strategy. These principles are role agnostic, and emphasize a more thoughtful approach, regardless of the project.
Abandon your attachment to the search for one big idea in favor of these holistic principles. Or, as the old adage goes, “work smarter, not harder” and your marketing strategy will be set up for success.
Miranda Anderson, Account Director, Digitaria.
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