How to Develop a Content Strategy (with Examples)

content strategy
content strategy

In today’s crowded and increasingly digital marketing landscape, you need a strong content strategy in order to reach your audience.

Here’s why:

Your content strategy is what makes your brand visible on search engines. It helps the right customers find you at the right time and provides the best possible user experience once they’re on your website.

In this guide, we’ll cover the specific steps you should take to develop your content strategy, plus real-world content strategy examples from brands who are doing it right.

Let’s get started!

Quick Takeaways

  • A content strategy is a holistic approach to delivering information to customers. It is different from content marketing, which is the execution of your strategy.
  • Clearly-defined goals and performance metrics are foundational components of your content strategy. They keep your strategy focused and help you measure its success.
  • Buyer personas are a valuable tool for defining your target audience prior to launching your content strategy.
  • Strong keyword research is essential to successful SEO for your content strategy.
  • Amplifying your content on your own platforms and making it shareable for users will increase your brand visibility and reach.

What is a content strategy and why is it important?

A content strategy is a holistic approach to delivering the information your customers need across channels and at every stage of the buyer journey. It makes content a strategic asset for your company — one you can leverage to drive traffic, leads, engagement, sales, and other business objectives.

As you can see below, companies can choose from a wide range of content to deliver at each phase of the buyer journey. Potential customers at each stage have different needs and require different kinds of information, meaning companies must be intentional about what, how, and when they deliver the various content they create. Having a defined content strategy is critical to this effort and one of the surest ways to maximize content ROI.

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Content strategy vs. content marketing

It’s important to note that a content strategy is not the same as content marketing.

Think of it this way: your content strategy defines the overall mindset, culture, and style for communicating with your customers through content. Content marketing covers the execution of that strategy — your techniques, tools, channels, and of course actual content.

This distinction is crucial. Any company can publish content with fairly minimal effort. But to create consistent, high-value, relevant content that both helps your customers and drives your larger business goals is a much more complex undertaking. This is demonstrated in a startling statistic from SEMRush that found that while 91% of companies use content marketing, only 9% would rate the results of their performance as excellent.

So where’s the missing link? I’d venture to guess that almost all of those companies feeling dissatisfied with their content’s performance are missing a strong content strategy behind it. But you don’t have to be one of them. Let’s dive into how you can develop a content strategy that connects the actual content you create with the goals you want to accomplish for your business.

10 steps to a killer content strategy for your brand

Set your goals

The first critical step to a content strategy that will deliver is to set well-defined goals that can guide your strategy and help you measure its ultimate success. I recommend using the SMART goal framework, which helps you set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Setting clear goals and knowing what you want to achieve better positions you to outline the rest of your content strategy.

SMART analysis

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Define buyer personas

Buyer personas are representations of your customers that help you determine needs, pain points, motivations, and behavior. Ultimately, they should help you understand what your customers are trying to accomplish and how your offerings can help them do it. That’s why you should always keep your personas focused on actionability rather than arbitrary traits.

When you’re developing personas, aim to define:

  • Content your target customers use
  • Topics they are interested in
  • Types or formats of content they prefer
  • Channels they use
  • Stage of the buyer journey
  • Keywords they use to search and
  • Questions they ask

These insights can help inform the content pillars you should focus on (more on that next), what topics to cover, and what types of content will best engage your audience.

Determine content pillars and types

Content pillars are the main categories from which all your content ideas originate. Think of them as the “buckets” or “themes” under which all of your content can be organized. They’re central to your content strategy because they determine what matters to your audience and serve as a guide for your creators, keeping them focused on creating pieces that align with your larger goals.

To really use pillars to drive results, you should keep them somewhat broad, allowing you to come up with a range of topics and content ideas to fall under them. Tag every piece of content you create under the appropriate pillar(s) so that you have visibility into the volume and types of content being created for each. Finally, stick with your content pillars for an extended period of time to give your content a chance to drive SEO results.

Establish your brand voice

Your brand voice defines the overall personality you put forth when you communicate with customers. It’s an important component of how brands make connections with their audience and plays a central role in the customer experience. Your brand voice, like your pillars, also serves as a guide for content creators and ensures your content is an accurate reflection of your company.

To develop a strong brand voice, you’ll want to set parameters around language and tone. For example, should your blog posts be casual and conversational or formal and strictly informative? Which words or phrases should be used consistently to refer to specific products or buyers and which should always be avoided (like cliches or outdated terms)?

It’s a good idea to put together a documented guide with dos and don’ts around brand voice to help content creators stay consistent and on the mark.

Conduct keyword research and develop your SEO strategy

Did you know that 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine? If you don’t rank on search engine results pages (SERPs) for keywords and phrases that your customers are searching for, you’re essentially invisible to your audience.

One of the keys to ranking on SERPs is effective keyword research. You can conduct it using tools like the Keyword Magic Tool from SEMRush. Once you have keyword ideas, you can develop your SEO strategy by aligning keywords with the buyer funnel and your content pillars. These steps ensure your content gets to the right customers at the right time.

For more on how to conduct keyword research with the SEMRush tool, watch a quick overview on each below:

Brainstorm content ideas

This is the fun part! Now that you’ve outlined buyer personas, content pillars, and brand voice and conducted keyword research, you have the information you need to begin coming up with your content ideas. This means outlining topics, titles, and types of content you’ll create to engage your audience.

Think creatively about how to communicate each of your topic ideas. For example, a how-to for using one of your products might be best published as a video, while a top ten list of resources on a particular topic might be better as a listicle blog post.

The Content Marketing Institute recently created this helpful content brainstorming guide with techniques to help you feel inspired and get more creative with your teams.

Create a content calendar

Your content calendar is a critical part of the execution plan for your content strategy. It determines how and when you’ll publish your content and keeps you on track and accountable. Check out our previous article on content calendars and templates for more on how to create one, or download our own template (linked here and shown below) to get started now!

Outline key metrics

How will you determine if your content strategy is a success? First and foremost, you’ll need to outline which key metrics you’ll measure. Many of these metrics will come from your original SMART goals, but now that the rest of your content strategy has been developed, you can get even more specific.

The five most important key metrics I recommend using to assess content performance are:

  • Traffic – Traffic is the one metric you must measure. If no one is landing on your website, no one is reading your content, and your strategy will not be successful.
  • Conversions – Conversions measure the rate at which your web visitors are taking action (such as subscribing to your newsletter or making an ecommerce purchase) after interacting with your content.
  • Engagement – You can track engagement by looking at data points such as time spent on your site and number of pages visited per session
  • SEO Performance – Track SERP rankings and how they are changing over time.
  • Authority – High authority drives better SEO and more traffic. Authority is not quite as cut-and-dry as the other metrics, but you can use this guide from Moz to help you determine yours.

Create awesome content

Content creation is no small undertaking, and publishing consistently is one of the most important drivers of content marketing success. Part of developing a strong content strategy is thinking thoroughly and realistically about who is going to create and publish your content.

Your two primary options are to create content internally or to outsource to an agency. Both have pros and cons, but I will say this: if you don’t have an internal team that is experienced with creating optimized content and has the bandwidth to do it, outsourcing is almost certainly your best option.

The biggest concerns companies typically have about outsourcing content are cost and loss of control over content, so let’s address those here.

There’s no denying that outsourcing comes with costs. But if you don’t already have an established content team, outsourcing is actually more cost-effective than building a team internally. When you outsource, you don’t have to worry about costs like salaries, benefits, or office space. You don’t have to worry about the time or additional human resources needed to manage a new team.

Outsourcing also allows your existing team to focus more on strategic work related to your core business initiatives.

As for control over your content, know this: a good content marketing agency will take time to get to know you, your goals, your brand voice, and much more. They will have ways to maintain ongoing communication with you built into their processes that allows you to see and provide feedback on all of your brand’s new content.

Explore outsourcing more in our article about the 11 Benefits of Outsourcing Content Creation.

Amplify your content

This one’s a no brainer! Don’t just publish content and hope it does well on it’s own. Amplify your content by making it as shareable as possible and sharing it yourself in other places. Share your content on social media, include it in newsletters and emails, and ask employees to share content, too! In short: the more your content is shared, the more it’s seen, and the higher your ROI on it will be.

Content strategy examples to inspire you!

While we don’t have access to other brands’ internal documents and strategy development meetings, we can see great strategy when it’s reflected in content. To help you get inspired, check out these 7 real-world examples of high-quality content strategy execution.

Hubspot’s inbound marketing strategy

When Hubspot launched in the early 2000s, founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah were pioneers of inbound marketing with online content. Realizing that traditional sales methods were becoming less effective as people were inundated with more media and information, they quickly began building a blog covering topics relevant to their customer base.

Over time, they established strong brand authority and online presence for a wide range of marketing topics. Today marketing professionals know them as a go-to resource for inbound and content marketing information. Their success lies heavily in their ability to pinpoint customer needs and create high-volume, high-quality content — blogs, videos, infographics, original research and more — that addresses those needs.

Spend a few minutes scrolling through their blog and other content libraries and it’s clear how the customer is at the center of everything they create. You can see it, too, in Hubspot’s customer code — a guide by which the entire company operates. Dharmesh Shah’s deep dives into how you can grow your brand using their customer code are valuable reads.

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Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” videos

Blendtec’s marketing team launched their “Will it Blend?” video series in 2007. It featured founder Tom Dickson blending extremely non-blendable items to show just how powerful their product was. The series was a hit — it increased their sales by 1000% and now has hundreds of millions of views.

The reason I like it as a content strategy example is for their clear brand voice in the videos. Blendtec decided that selling a practical household product didn’t need to be boring. They created a relatable, funny brand voice that connected with customers and made their brand recognizable to consumers.

John Deere’s The Furrow publication

Did content marketing exist in the 1800s? If you read original issues of John Deere’s ‘The Furrow’ magazine, the answer is a clear yes. John Deere has been publishing The Furrow for well over a century — since 1895 — to help farmers solve common problems they encounter. John Deere products are the secondary message, although they are woven into stories and articles to demonstrate how they can make farmers’ lives better and easier.

A lot has obviously changed since 1895. But the team at John Deere has smartly stuck to the content strategy roots established by The Furrow. It is still a premiere brand for farming equipment known for their long-standing focus on customer needs first, brand second.

As for The Furrow itself? More than 500,000 customers still receive it every year.

The lesson here: when potential customers recognize you as a thought leader in your industry, a brand they can turn to for important information, they’ll also turn to you when it comes time to make a purchase.

American Express’s OPEN Forum

American Express has always shared their commitment to supporting small business customers. Their OPEN forum has been one of the smartest ways they do it. OPEN forum aims to be a hub of thought leadership that small business owners can utilize to grow their businesses. It features content around finances, marketing, management and other topics important to small business owners. The catch? The content comes from other American Express customers, not the brand itself.

Hosting a place where small business owners can share ideas and learn from peers has proven valuable to their customers. Today, the OPEN forum is a core part of their content strategy. It has helped build community among customers and allowed American Express to create content on a larger scale.

Here’s a recent OPEN Forum feature from Inc. Magazine columnist Norm Brodsky and serial entrepreneur Brian Hecht on how to write business plans:

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series is another example of a brand providing real value by covering topics that address customer needs and challenges. The Whiteboard Friday series, started by Moz founder Rand Fishkin, launched when Moz itself was a very young company. Rand used the videos to address common and complex industry topics in a visual, engaging way.

The series quickly gained momentum. The content was valuable and SaaS professionals responded, subscribing to their channel in droves. Rand is no longer with Moz today, but the series still publishes every Friday. It’s now one of the longest-running B2B video series.

Check out this Whiteboard Friday episode on optimizing competitors’ branded keywords:

Patagonia’s focus on shareability

Remember we said how important it is to amplify your content? Well, the team at outdoor apparel and gear brand Patagonia are pros. They create highly shareable content that’s lean on the hard sell and heavy on meaning. Their messages focus what their customers care about: sustainability, helping the environment, and knowing your impact as a consumer.

Ads like the one below — part of Patagonia’s now-famous “Don’t Buy this Jacket” ad in the New York Times  — was also published in blog articles and on social media platforms, making it easy to share and thus spreading awareness and increasing Patagonia’s reputation as an authority on sustainable products and purchases.

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Patagonia also operates several targeted blogs on platforms like Tumblr, like their Worn Wear blog, where customers share their own stories of wearing their Patagonia gear. Crowdsourcing this kind of content on platforms where sharing is the primary activity? It’s about as smart a content strategy as you can get. It has high shareability, brand presence on the platforms where their customers already are, and built-in social proof with every new post.

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Red Bull’s experiential content

The world knows Red Bull today as a content marketing guru brand, and for good reason. Their brand personality explodes with every piece of content they create, and they utilize many different content types across channels.

The key to Red Bull’s content marketing success is their focus on selling an experience. They showcase an entire Red Bull culture rather than just talking about their products themselves. People now associate the Red Bull brand directly with high-adrenaline, extreme sports. They have capitalized on this niche to build a loyal customer base with their content.

A quick look at their YouTube video channel homepage (which has more than 10 million subscribers!) shows exactly who their target audience is. That’s effective target marketing!

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Ready to build a content strategy that works?

Start with the resources you have. Create a strategy and commit to a high level of quality and a focused brand message. Keep growing your content strategy as you learn more about your customers. Then, engage with them and build the bridge between your brand and the people your business exists for.

Need help getting started? Check out our SEO Blog Writing Services or schedule a free consultation today!

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.