Every content operation—whether a two-person crew at a small company or a 50-member team within a multinational corporation—needs a solid content strategy. Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content. 

Your content strategy will be a guide that details the purpose of your content work and how to accomplish that work. The content strategy synthesizes analyses to form a comprehensive content vision and plans. The plans should take into account the audience, business goals, internal resources, and publishing channels.

And, for large organizations, content strategy should happen at multiple levels—from the corporate foundation to each channel or product—to ensure the organization has efficient, aligned, and scalable content capacity.

This article walks through how to start crafting your content strategy.

1. Define a Content Vision

A content vision is essential to being able to create a content strategy. Define a vision to inspire and guide yourself as well as your stakeholders, partners, and team.

Make your content vision vivid: Your content vision must be descriptive, something that your team, your executives, and your stakeholders can easily understand and even visualize. Content Science has partnered with clients to define vision summaries such as “gateway to untapped knowledge” and “thriving digital hub connecting the right users with personalized facts, information, and stories” and “world-class media integrated into our members’ day-to-day workflow.” 

Create a vision that is inspirational and significant: Your vision isn’t to prevent typos. Your vision isn’t to produce more videos. Your content vision is something meaningful to your organization and your team and something ambitious enough that people will be motivated to put in extra effort to achieve it. For example, maintaining a company blog just wasn’t motivating enough for us here at Content Science. However, aspiring to be the Harvard Business Review of content to change the world was. Within a few months of converting our blog into an online magazine called Content Science Review, we exceeded our initial goals for traffic and won a few awards.

Ensure the vision is infectious and out of the ordinary: Make your content vision a unique idea that catches on easily. Ideally, your content vision is a concept that people within your organization—and maybe even outside of it—can “get” quickly and discuss enthusiastically. And, no two organizations should have the exact same content vision.

Think of your content vision as a north star: Make your vision act as a guiding light throughout the craziness of managing the change and effort to achieve your vision. When stakeholders or team members start to doubt or they start to suggest activities that don’t fit your content roadmap, you have your vision to lead everyone back to the right focus.

2. Connect Content to Customer/User Journeys

Your customers need content throughout their relationship with your company. Your content strategy must consider how and what content will reach different customer segments.

Develop user journey maps: A user journey map is one of the essential instruments a content strategist can use to present vital storytelling and visualizations of the user’s experience. Displaying the information in this way not only leaves a succinct and significant impression, but also communicates content gaps, content needs, and types of content—all while creating a shared vision among all the stakeholders.

Go beyond user tasks: In the digital world, there is an obsession with user or customer behavior. Marketers want users to convert. Designers want users to successfully achieve their goals. So, it’s no surprise that a task (behavior) flow has become a foundation of user journeys. Before, during, and after someone takes an action, he or she has thoughts and makes decisions. That’s an incredible opportunity for content to guide and influence users. So, how do you capture more than behavior in a user journey? Include key questions users are trying to answer and key decisions they are trying to make. 

Insist that content intelligence and content people inform the user journeys: Layering key data into your user journeys can help tell a rich story about your users. Examples of data that can be useful to understanding your users’ mindset and its impact on their behavior include:

  • Surveys and ratings focused on user perceptions and satisfaction.
  • Analysis of content engagement (page views, downloads, time on site).
  • Analysis of customer inquiries (calls, emails, social, etc.).
  • Search engine rankings and keywords.
  • Usability-style testing + qualitative research (especially if you’re defining a journey for a completely new experience).
  • Third-party research about trends and key demographics (Pew Internet, Forrester, Content Marketing Institute, Content Science, etc.).

3. Establish the Content Purposes and Contexts

Critical to your strategy is what the content is supposed to accomplish and in what situations. From these two considerations, the other aspects of the strategy should flow.

Figure out where purpose and context meet: For instance, a content purpose may be to convince people to subscribe to a service, and a content situation may be the user is researching service options. Another example comes from The Weather Channel. The company revamped its online content strategy to reach more users based on their weather context every day, not just on severe weather days. Enumerate the key purposes and contexts for your content strategy. These scenarios can help you as you create your editorial calendar and prioritize what you need to produce and when. 

4. Carve Out Content Topics and Types

The strategy should state what content should cover and how, at least at a high level. 

Specify key content topics: The strategy can state the major topic areas your content covers. As you set out to define your topics, keep in mind that your content isn’t for everyone. It may not even be for everyone within your specific market. Writing vague articles designed to appeal to everyone has the counterintuitive effect of crushing whatever it is that makes your site engaging in the first place. It’s important that your content strategy establishes content topics that clearly fit your customer needs. 

List out content types: Determine the main types of content—text, blog posts, audio, video, etc.—that support your strategy. These should be types that you have the resources to support—the right team, website, budget, etc. 

5. Determine the Distribution Plan

We live in a multi-platform world. Every content strategy should note what content will be appropriate for distribution and through which platforms and channels

Prioritize distribution channels: Your content strategy should outline which distribution channels you’re creating content for. While your top priority may be your website or blog, other priority channels may include mobile applications, email, social media, press releases, or other digital platforms such as Quora or Alexa. You’ll want to rely on your audience and customer data and other analyses, such as a review of the content landscape to determine which distribution channels matter most. When you know the channels your users prefer or could use in each stage of their journey, you can identify more easily opportunities to:

  • Reuse content across channels. 
  • Optimize content for priority channels. 
  • Distribute content more effectively in each journey stage.

Moving Forward

Write it down: As you now understand, there are many parts and pieces that make up a content strategy. This is why it’s essential that you document your strategy. Writing it down, even if only as a one-page brief, allows you to share the strategy with stakeholders and staff to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to move forward in the same direction. And, research from Content Science as well as the Content Marketing Institute has found a link between having a documented content strategy and increased content marketing success. Use these templates to start documenting your content strategy. 

Now that you have a good feel for how to create a content strategy, you’re ready to take the next steps. Here are some suggestions for how to go from idea to full implementation with help from Content Science:

Dig in deeper with a certification course: This article features content from Content Science’s Content Strategy + Analysis Certification program, which is part of our Content Science Academy. The certification course provides an introduction to content strategy, and covers topics that will help steer your strategy, including user journeys (that work for content), content analytics, and competitive content analysis—and provides examples, practice assignments, and tools to get you going. 

Get guidance from The Content Advantage: There are even more content strategy insights and examples in The Content Advantage. You can use the information in the book to help you put together a content strategy that works for your organization. 

Partner with Content Science: We are here to help you. If your organization is ready to get to work on a content strategy, you can engage Content Science to work with you and your team to develop a strategy that will put you on the path to success. 

This article is part of our ongoing How To series, in which we help you learn how to get started in or improve across key content areas. Catch up with the first in this series, How to Start a Content Analysis.

The Author

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.

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