two coworkers in a brainstorming meeting
Creating a content strategy will bring results as well as aid important aspects of your business, such as marketing. — Getty Images/Marco VDM

You’ve likely heard the phrase “content is king,” which was popularized in an essay by Bill Gates in 1996 and has since become a cliche for marketing agencies.

Despite its overuse, the phrase still has validity for small businesses seeking to reach new customers and build relationships with existing ones. Content marketing is a powerful practice that fuels your social media engagement, increases brand loyalty, improves SEO results and boosts conversion rates.

To reap the benefits of content marketing, however, you must have a strong strategy underpinning what content you will use to reach a certain audience, as well as a distribution strategy that aligns with your ultimate goal. Here’s how to develop a content strategy for your small business that captures all the benefits of content marketing.

[Read more: A Complete Guide to Content Marketing]

What is a content strategy?

Your content strategy is your roadmap for developing and distributing content. Content could be blog posts, videos, podcast episodes or any other media asset your audience can browse, listen to, watch, read or share.

A good content strategy considers not only what you will create but the resources, audience and expectations you have for the content that you will share. This plan should also include key performance indicators (KPIs) to help you measure if your content is helping your business achieve its goals. As you go through this process, keep these questions in mind:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What problem does your content solve?
  • How does your content help your brand stand out?
  • How will your audience consume your content?
  • What will make your content successful?

These big picture questions can help guide you through as you go through the stages of developing a complete content strategy.

How to build a content strategy for your business

Step 1: Set a goal

Before you do anything, you must know what you want to achieve by creating content. A SMART goal will help you determine what type of content to create, as well as set expectations for what KPIs will make your content successful. Some common goals for content marketing include:

  • Brand awareness. For example: “Get X new Instagram followers in Y months.”
  • Brand loyalty. For example: “Increase customer referrals by X% in Y months.”
  • Build authority or educate customers. For example: “Improve your search engine ranking to land on X page by Y month.”
  • Customer engagement. For example: “Get X new email newsletter sign-ups in Y days.”
  • Recruit employees. For example: “Increase applications by X% over Y months.”

Of course, there are plenty of other things your content marketing can do — generate sales leads, for instance, or help improve your customer service. Pick one goal and use that as your guiding light for crafting your content.

Step 2: Define your audience

To understand who will consume your content, your team can develop buyer personas. Each person is a “semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer” based on a combination of market research and real data from your existing customers, according to Hubspot.

Dive into data from your sales history, loyalty program and existing followers on social media to design a profile of your key audience. This buyer persona will allow you to create content that’s relevant and interesting, as well as determine where you will distribute your content.

Step 3: Plan your content

Your content marketing outreach can take many different forms, including blog posts, videos, infographics, white papers, case studies, podcasts, images or an email newsletter. You don’t need to create all of these types of content at first, though: Start with one or two mediums to see what works. Likewise, your content strategy should identify the resources you have available in order to create media assets. Who will create content, how much do they have to spend and what tools will they use to make this content on-brand and unique?

Step 4: Create a calendar

Next, map out a plan for getting your content out in the world. The type of content you’ve chosen to create will largely guide your distribution method. For instance, images and infographics will likely perform better on sites like Pinterest and Instagram, while links to blog posts will perform well on Twitter and Facebook.

In addition to identifying where you will share your content, include a schedule and assign a specific person to make sure content is posted according to plan.

[Read more: How to Develop a Content Distribution Strategy]

Step 5: Measure your success

Finally, include a plan for measuring the success of your content in your strategy document. Some popular KPIs related to content marketing include:

  • Unique page views.
  • Referral rate.
  • Number of downloads.
  • Increase in revenue.
  • Conversion rate.

The KPIs you choose should align with the ultimate goal you set in step one. Remember, your content strategy is a living document: Don’t be shy about making revisions as you learn what works and connect with your audience on a deeper level.

The type of content you’ve chosen to create will largely guide your distribution method.

Why is a content strategy necessary?

Well-written content builds out a website and attracts the right customers through search engine optimization (SEO). It can also establish expertise or credibility among your target customer base and industry peers. Most importantly, a successful content strategy can help shape consumer perceptions about your brand.

Successful content hinges upon messaging that resonates with an audience, is easily digestible and communicates a clear value proposition. Communicating clearly also means shifting messaging depending on the channel to meet the customer where they are versus where you want them to be.

An advantageous goal to focus on through your content strategy, in addition to tracking ROI, is building customer trust. Use content to establish yourself as the expert in your industry so your brand becomes the go-to for information about a solution or common issue.

[Read more: Content Marketing Best Practices for Businesses]

Best practices for content strategy building

If you’re ready to optimize your content strategy, here are a few key steps to follow.

Connect with links

Both inbound and outbound links can positively influence SEO and help gain credibility for your blog. However, it’s important to mention that consistently broken or inaccurate links can — and will — bring down the reputation of a blog.

Inbound links, also known as “backlinks,” come into your site from another and are an important factor in SEO. When search engines see websites with high domain authority linking to other sites, it’s a positive vote of confidence. A site with a lower (but not baseline or toxic) domain authority can benefit immensely from a backlink from a higher domain authority site. To get a backlink to your site, publish unique and well-researched content, reach out to others and use your network.

Outbound links are hyperlinks that take the reader somewhere else and can be internal or external; both have their place in content. Internal links help readers to find other related content and keep them on your site for a longer period of time. External links, which link to any website outside of your domain, offer readers another source of information and can build trust. If your site has a high domain authority, that outbound link to another site is someone else’s backlink and may yield more opportunities for linking in the future.

Follow a content calendar’s schedule

Remaining consistent in publishing new and updated content on a schedule will yield more benefits than simply saving stress by reaction-posting.

Content calendars do more than keep a brand on track for consistent posting; they preserve the content strategy by giving a bird’s-eye view of the pieces and messages going out into the world on a daily basis. With this big-picture view of the comprehensive narrative, it’s easier for marketers to stay on message and identify if or when any changes need to be made.

Include engagement and relate to the consumer

In recent years, text-only content has come into question for its effectiveness. Instead, engagement-rich content is beginning to take the lead. Webpages with useful information in addition to engagement factors like videos, buttons, podcasts and images tend to have a lower bounce rate and make a more memorable impression on the user.

Engagement also comes through the type of information and tone published. Infusing content with your brand’s unique voice, whether it’s funny, sarcastic, informal or educational, gives the reader more of a personality to relate to. In addition, unique, relatable and relevant content keeps your website top-of-mind for teaching something otherwise unknown or for solving a problem.

Fall back on data

Data can and will transform a content strategy from a stale set of blog posts to an engaging, relatable suite of content. Marketers should use data about their consumers to inform nearly all content decisions, from topics to blog post length.

Looking at basic demographics from Google Analytics, marketers can get an idea about readers’ basic online profiles — meaning they can see information about affinity groups, in-market segments and more. Combine affinity and age and yield insights into topics not yet discussed on the blog. You can also use heat-mapping software to determine the highest- and lowest-yield places on a webpage and make decisions for page updates off of that information.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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